Surviving BEA

BookNetter Lauren Stewart survived BEA and is here to report back on startups to look out for, the buzziest books of the show, and how BookCon is affecting booksellers.

There’s too much truth in this beautiful diagram. Click to view it on Brendan Jay’s Tumblr.Surviving Book Expo America in NYC is not for the faint of heart. First of all, the scope of the event itself is immense. Add to that all the individuals and organizations planning independent events across the city to capitalize on the conference, and it’s a lot—even for the baddest BookNetters in town.

I joined BookNet’s Director of Customer Relations Pamela Millar to take in the International Digital Publishing Forum’s (IDPF) Digital Book conference and its dedicated Making Information Pay conference stream, brought to you by the Book Industry Study Group. We came, we learned, we’re… still digesting everything.

Want a by-the-minute conference roundup? eBOUND Canada’s Shannon Culver pulled together an excellent Storify stream here. In this post, I’m going to focus on the key buzz coming out from the show.

Startups a-go-go

Once again, BEA ran the Startup Challenge to provide a space for startups to enter the market and make connections. Emerging startups (in the Bootstrap, Seed, or Series A stages) were welcomed to apply for the chance to exhibit in Startup Alley, pitch to venture capitalists and publishing & technology leaders, and present to a panel of all-star publishing judges in a live, on-stage Startup Challenge event. Joining established names like Slicebooks, Startup Alley featured reader recommendation/discovery apps (Bookmarq and BooksILove) as well as anti-piracy solutions (Piracy Trace).

One of the startup standouts was SocialBook, a “new reading, listening, viewing platform that enables you to talk to each other inside of the text, video, or audio.” The Startup Challenge finalist is positioned to attack the issues surrounding “social marginalia,” a concept defined by Clive Thompson in his Tech Forum 2014 talk, “Public Thinking and the Future of Reading” (slides here). Clive argued that we “live in a world where people increasingly do their thinking in public—collaboratively, together, online, using tools like status updates, discussion boards, and social networks. Now books are set to become the next big forum for public thinking—as readers begin sharing their ideas and arguing in the margins.”

Continuing this thought, Molly Barton (former Global Digital Director at Penguin and currently principal at The Proper Company), in the IDPF panel “What Can Publishers Do Better To Put Readers First?”, wondered if we are making books less culturally important by separating the reading process from discussion around those books by not having effective platforms to discuss a book inside the book itself, when readers are engaging with the text (akin to a live, global Twitter conversation about new episodes of shows like Mad Men or Game of Thrones). Does this lack of connectivity harm readers and, therefore, publishing?

From SocialBook’s website: “In SocialBook you can upload content, paste content, or click ‘The Commons’ and find out what other members of the SocialBook community are getting into.” You can annotate your books privately, or make those annotations available to your wider, personal social network of users (see: private book clubs? classrooms?), or enable global communication. Founded by early ebook pioneer Robert Stein, the platform has the potential to solve a number of solutions and is something to watch.

Then there’s BookGrabbr, which launched in a major way with a large display in the dual BEA/BookCon show floor: “an app and web-based technology product designed to expand the brand and media platform of any author by creating and increasing visibility in the book community and securing new readers and customers for those authors’ books.” BookGrabbr promises to capitalize on the vast social networks built around authors to help publishers, and even the authors themselves, push out promotional material, samples, complete books, and more in a clear, newsfeed-friendly format. Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster are already on board, and with a recently-closed $1 million funding round and another round on the horizon, we’re likely to hear more from BookGrabbr in the future.

Buzzy books: Comedy trumps all

Repeating a tale as old as time, BEA publishers brought their A-game to the BookExpo/BookCon double-headed monster this year, featuring appearances by major names on both their fall lists and in their booths for exclusive pre-release signings. If you didn’t know this was a book conference, you could be forgiven for assuming you were at a comedy convention. Many of the major fall books are written by comedy stars of the big and small screens: Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, B.J. Novak, Jason Segel, Felicia Day, and Nathan Lane all have significant releases headed to bookshops in the months ahead. But perhaps the biggest news of the show was the book that was leaked before BEA even started: the 2016 release of the joint Kaling/Novak-penned book about their “complicated” relationship, which netted the pair a reported $7.5 million advance from their publisher, Penguin Random House. We can’t wait to read every awkward detail.

BookCon: White horse or Trojan horse?

2015 marked the second year for the grand BookCon experiment, and it was clear the organizers learned from the year’s first outing. Axing free entry for BEA passholders, the event went public in a big way: doubling in length, it took over the Javits Center for the entire weekend, and featured an endless lineup of panels, book presentations, and author signings.

2015 also marked the last year BEA will be in New York before it, and BookCon, moves to Chicago in 2016. This is old news (the move was first announced in 2013), but with BookCon remaining a major focus for both Reed Exhibitions, who organizes BEA, and the publishers who bring the talent to pack the house, it’s not quite so simple anymore. For those publishers exhibiting at both BEA and BookCon, the new venue (McCormick Place) will raise some challenges for exhibitors. Plus, there’s the trepidation observed at the most recent American Booksellers Association’s (ABA) Town Hall, where the opening discussion revealed some of the membership’s discontent with reduced ABA educational programming at BEA and the perception that BookCon is directing the trade show’s future, encouraging onlookers to speculate what a move will do to bookseller attendance at BEA in 2016. You can read ABA’s 2015 event wrap-up here.

While the attendee makeup of trade events like BEA has certainly changed over the past few years (adding startups and indie authors to the ranks), it does make me wonder: is there a BEA without booksellers? Even with a reduced show footprint as much of the organization’s educational programming is being presented instead at Winter Institute, booksellers have always been a core draw for publishers exhibiting at the event. In a landscape where the future of publishing may be one that is reader-driven, BookCon may be the future for many. And, with indies bookstores thriving, maybe the future doesn’t look anything like we thought it would.