Last June, I attended two events: BookExpo/BookCon held May 31-June 4 at the Javits Center in New York City, and the American Library Association Annual Conference (ALAAC), held June 22-27 at McCormick Place in Chicago.
Both events cater to passionate readers of books and related media, although of different demographics. BookExpo is a publishing trade show, attended by booksellers, a few librarians, authors, and publishers. BookCon is a consumer show, catering mostly to young women. ALAAC serves librarians, offering professional development training as well as a show floor selling books and related library products. (They had a maker space showcasing all sorts of cool tech to promote STEAM learning, as well as digital scanners!)
I go to all three shows with different agendas, as each has a different vibe and purpose.
Here are my thoughts:
I’ve been attending BookExpo for almost … 20 years?! Many of those shows were in New York City, and I’ve seen the show shrink dramatically. Where once all of Javits was used for exhibits (Childrens and small press in the basement, mainstream on the third floor, foreign rights up on Four), now, all of BookExpo fits on the third floor, comfortably. This includes the private meeting rooms for the major publishers, demarcated by tall black drapery on the north side of the floor.
Halls 3D and 3E were set aside for publishers who did not wish to participate in BookCon that weekend, allowing for a large wall to be erected overnight when the show transformed to BookCon for the weekend.
How was BookExpo itself? It was… okay. I know what to expect now, in an era where Amazon is soon to be the fifth largest bookstore chain with 13 stores. With fewer stores, and most business occurring off the show floor, there’s less reason for professionals to attend, which is one of the reasons why a consumer show was added to bolster attendance for publishers, who question if the time and cost of attending is worthwhile.
The bigger publishers’ booths are mostly event spaces, with few actual books on display. Instead, one sees many video displays featuring covers as a slideshow, and discovery of new titles is not likely. Instead, my discovery usually occurs in the smaller booths, where publishers and distributors are less busy, and are willing to indulge my crazy questions!
There are not as many free books handed out at BookExpo, as much of that distribution is now done electronically and digitally.
How was the programming? Pretty good… Marvel held a panel featuring authors writing comics and related prose novels… I never expected to see R.L. Stine and Rainbow Rowell on stage together! A bookseller panel focused on providing books showcasing the immigrant experience, and I learned of a few new titles, like Rendez-vous in Phoenix. There were also many graphic novel autographing sessions, and again, made some great discoveries, such as Spinning and Svetlana Chmakova’s Brave. Most unusual? A graphic novel about landscape architecture.
BookCon is energizing, given that there are thousands of bibliophiles engaging with publishers and publicists! Attendance is about 20,000, and most of them are young female readers. BookCon actively caters to this demographic, which is good, but also bad, in that aside from a few juvenile publishers, there isn’t much else to appeal to other readers.
Here’s another problem: Some publishers just don’t know how, or want, to interact with the general public.
This is my scorecard for the show floor, which occupied Halls 3A-3C of Javits. (3D and 3E were open during BookExpo.)
The blackened booths? Those booths were empty. The exhibitors skedaddled Friday evening.
The diagonal lines? They at least had something on display, advertising titles.
(My criteria was very liberal… if there was a rep standing in an empty booth, I counted it as “present”.)
That area to the left (south) of the Downtown stage only had booth 1939. The rest were not physically there, so it seems that ReedPop had some unsold real estate. It wasn’t noticed, as that side had the entrance to the Downtown Stage, as well as offering run-off for people waiting around to wait in line at the Penguin Random House booth (1921/2021), which was like Marvel’s comic con booths… lots of space for signings and for people to queue.
More problematic? The area to the right of the Downtown Stage, noted on the map as “a mess”. These five rows of booths were occupied by clients of Ingram Distribution, which recently acquired Perseus Distribution. Aside from the few booths noted, everything was vacated. It was a ghost town, with very little even on display. I don’t know the reason… some of the client publishers were academic and technical, but others, like Nobrow, were very consumer-friendly.
Saturday was busier than Sunday, as, like other pop culture fans, readers got there early to get exclusive swag when the show opened. It was bustling, but moving around was easy… the aisles never got too crowded. (Except around the Penguin Random House booth, but that was easy to avoid.)
- BookCon had thousands of young female readers in attendance that weekend. VORACIOUS, passionate readers who love to share their excitement online.
- Wonder Woman opened to record box office numbers in movie theaters that weekend. (I saw it Thursday night.)
- PRH featured a Wonder Woman prose novel by Leigh Bardugo, with numerous booth signings, and a standing-room-only panel showcasing the four titles in the series.
- DC Comics held Wonder Woman Day events at bookstores, comics shops, and libraries around the world, with Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang signing books at Midtown Comics Downtown in New York City.
- (Azzarello and Chiang had signed their creator-owned titles at Image’s booth on Friday.)
- Included in the Wonder Woman Day promotion were two comicbooks: a preview of the latest DC Superhero Girls graphic novel, and a reprint of Rucka and Sharp’s Wonder Woman #1.
- Paper tiaras and bracelets were also handed out at participating locations.
None of the Wonder Woman Day promotions were seen at BookCon.
Now, I can understand if DC had only one representative at BookExpo, and no booth presence. It’s been years (a decade?) since they’ve actively exhibited. But really… how hard would it have been to partner with their distributor, Penguin Random House, and have that booth hand out the Wonder Woman Day swag on Saturday? Can you imagine the Wonder Woman selfies populating Instagram? The digital downloads? (Oh, and while we’re dreaming, let’s imagine a special BookCon portal which also showcases DC’s Young Animal titles (edited by a rockstar) and other YA titles like Prez and Batgirl and Gotham Academy and … DC could track the impressions, analyze the data, and consider attending BookCon 2018.)
All this costs little to DC. It’s all promotional material, already produced and ready for distribution.
Instead, Captain Underpants drank that milkshake with numerous photo-ops at the Scholastic booth, and Disney Press handed out Miles Morales ARCs and catered to geeks with Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars titles. (Marvel wasn’t there either, but it’s unusual for them to attend BookExpo. I think I’ve seen them exhibit maybe three times?) Diamond Book Distributors had 1,000 square feet of space, hosting Image, Lion Forge, Joe Books, Paizo, and Rabbit. (Lion Forge and Image both hosted booth signings, and handed out lots of free comics and posters.) Boom! was present, featuring The Not-So Secret Society, which included free gummy bears (a plot device) and an activity in the Family HQ area. Insight Editions handed out promotional material for their new Insight Comics line. So, with all that activity going on, Marvel and DC weren’t missed.
My recommendations for ReedPOP?
- The trade show? It’s probably not going to grow, unless BookCon encourages more publishers to attend both events. I think it’s more likely that you’ll see BookCon take over the entire Third Floor at Javits, and those 278 BookExpo-only exhibitors will be relegated to a hall downstairs, mitigating the “Left Behind” booths I notated above.
- That “ghost town” problem needs to be fixed, otherwise, first-time attendees might not return the next year, or they might only buy a pass for one day. It also generates bad word-of-mouth marketing.
- 83% female. 56% Millennial. That’s great, if you’re an exhibitor, but it makes BookCon “New Adult Con”. There isn’t much marketing towards older adults, unless you’re a parent searching for children’s books. Diamond had their aisle promoting graphic novels of all sorts, but the other publishers didn’t seem to have many best-selling titles of interest. If you’re a publisher with titles aimed at adults (such as university presses), BookCon isn’t going to be worthwhile if most of the attendees are teens reading fiction.
- Authors… R.L. Stine and Dav Pilkey signed at the Scholastic booth (both were celebrating anniversaries). I didn’t get any comic-con vibes during the show, aside from the crowds surrounding the Penguin Random House booth, where bold face authors were promoting new titles, or signing backlist. Hillary Clinton spoke, and Kevin Hart met with fans.
- There are fandoms for many different genres and subjects: mystery, science fiction, romance, western, cooking, comics. BookCon should set up programming tracks to appeal to those fandoms… Create a Big Tent for all fans of reading! As the show grows, so does the programming. The American Library Association (see below) has their Big Tent show every year, but also organizes shows for specific memberships (public librarians, YA librarians, school librarians, college and research, children’s).
- BookCon already cross-markets with other ReedPOP shows such as New York Comic Con. RP should continue to do this with all of their shows, both domestically, and overseas. Use these sideshows to develop programming and to test new initiatives. What works gets copied to BookCon.
- ReedPOP could also spin off hybrid subject-specific consumer shows with BookCon providing the kernel and model. RP could hold a cookbook show, with cookbook publishers exhibiting along with housewares dealers and workshops. Or knitting. Or comics. Or travel. (In the early years of NYCC, that show shared Javits with the New York Times Travel Show.) Or car tuning. Or for whatever community exists. In this way, ALL publishers exhibit at a ReedPOP show, just not at the same ones. (Haynes is unlikely to exhibit at BookExpo, but could have a presence at a car show.) Also, since it’s a subject-specific show, the publishers are likely to have larger booths, instead of a 10×10 BookCon booth.
- Those 20,000 attendees? Not bad for any show, although that’s a little low for something at Javits. The Miami Book Fair International draws 200,000 in November. The Frankfurt Book Fair, which is a colossal trade show, draws 105,000 attendees during the consumer days (and 170K during the trade show). Hong Kong? 1.02 Million over seven days!
- ALL autographing was ticketed for BookCon, which meant you could reserve two tickets in advance. (Many “sold out” before the show.) The line ushers were friendly, and it was possible to enter another line if the line and time allowed. I suspect to see this implemented at other ReedPOP shows.
The American Library Association annual conference is always a summer vacation for me. It’s my San Diego, with less stress and cheaper hotel rooms.
Aside from a SNAFU with my press pass (easily corrected), I enjoyed my time in Chicago. Here, the publishers know that librarians are advocates for authors and titles, many actual books are displayed, booth signings are scheduled around the clock, and there’s excitement in the air. In addition to authors publicizing new books, there are many awards celebrated at ALAAC, so that A-list creators attend as well, either signing backlist titles, or promoting something new.
The show was packed with things to do… I did not have time to attend any of the events at the Graphic Novel stage, and even missed out on chatting with some exhibitors both in Artist Alley and the show floor. I attended two panels, both of which were informative, even if I’m not their target audience.
The best indicator of how great the show is for graphic novels? TWICE, just walking the show floor, I came upon two graphic novel book signings. The first was a surprise… Jillian Tamaki has a new book from Drawn & Quarterly! (And as her signing was finishing up, the next hour was anchored by Lynda Barry!) The second signing was hosted by Toon Books, so I picked up a copy of Good Night, Planet for my not-yet-speaking-but-still-old-enough-for-storytime grand-nephew.
The show itself seems to be shrinking, compared to the last Chicago outing in 2013. Then it was in the South Hall, and there seemed to be extra space. This year, it was in the smaller West Hall, and fit better. Attendance was down, but the major publishers were there, more than were at BookExpo. The show is nomadic.
Geek-friendly events at ALAAC continue to grow. The Friday night “ALA Play” event hosted numerous game companies in a mini-gamer con, similar in vibe to gaming rooms at science fiction conventions. Magic: The Gathering decks were included in each attendee tote bag, and there were a variety of game demos on the show floor that weekend. This year also included members from the maker space, as there’s a growing interest on using play and creativity to foster learning. For example: there’s a simple escape room game where clues inspire research, helping you to unlock a mystery box.
In addition to the graphic novel pavilion and artist alley, there was also a maker space to explore new tech, as well as the more old-fashioned ‘zine pavilion. NASA had a giant booth, showcasing educational possibilities and resources. The coolest? 3-D printable pinhole eclipse viewers in the shape of each state, showing the percentage totality on the map! The MarsTrek viewer (think “Google Earth”, but better) is also awesome. You can even export the topology to a 3D printer!
The Library of Congress was there, as always. I picked up this year’s National Book Fair poster, designed by Roz Chast. While chatting with one of public servants, I discovered that LoC has archived the entire Twitter archive! It’s currently “secret”, as there is a boondoggle over access and many other issues. The gentleman also had his own personal comics collection from the 50s, so I gave him some pointers on how to appraise the worth.
If you’re a librarian, especially one who serves younger readers, then I highly recommend attending! It’s an energizing show, especially this year, when everyone realizes just how important libraries are when facts are constantly being challenged.
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!