Book world reacts to BookExpo and BookCon retirement
BookExpo will not take place in 2021, ReedPop announced on Tuesday. In fact, the largest book publishing convention in the United States was established in 1947 as the American Booksellers Assn. Convention and Trade Show will no longer be in its current form at all.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fair was postponed from May to July of this year and finally replaced by a six-day virtual event. ReedPop said in a statement that it “would pull back the current iteration of events as new avenues are explored to meet community needs through a merging of personal and virtual events”. Together with the fair, BookCon, a consumer fair immediately after the Expo started in 2014, and the associated show Unbound have been retired.
As the news spread, publishers, booksellers and former participants were grappling with a development that felt sudden but in some ways inevitable.
Markus Dohle, executive director of Penguin Random House, told the Associated Press in a statement that he hoped these events would not be scrapped forever.
“We look forward to working with our industry partners to explore a reimagined event where we can all come together to celebrate books and their essential role in our society and culture,” he said.
For many publishers, the fair was a shoddy, analogue way of doing business that was already in decline before COVID-19.
“I’ve always loved strolling the halls and seeing smaller independent publishers, academic publishers, gift publishers and librarians,” said button publisher Reagan Arthur, who attended the convention for around 25 years. “For the retail trade, it was the book that could ever come closest to being glossy. And yes, it was out of date in many ways, but it had a drama that was fun. “
For Arthur, it was a constant reminder that publishing is “largely a word of mouth business,” an introverted profession that still has a strong social element. “We spend a lot of time together reading manuscripts and discussing their publication,” said Arthur. “But being able to see the people who recommend them to library users and sell them to bookstore browsers once a year is an intangible asset, but I think it makes this business what it is.”
For booksellers, most of them outside of New York, the convention was a rare opportunity to meet others in the industry – a place to network, meet publishers and authors in person, and plan their fall book purchases. It was also a fair where indie booksellers were treated as guests of honor for all of the prominent authors and CEOs present.
Bert H. Deixler, co-owner of Chevalier’s Books in Larchmont Village, described the retirement of the convent as “a loss to the bookselling community. We all benefited from being able to see “upcoming attractions” and chat with colleagues. It’s getting worse and worse for booksellers. “
Rick Simonson, senior book buyer at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, said that for over 40 years the conventions taught him much of what he knows about the industry. But in the last few years, as it got smaller, many booksellers realized that it needed a “serious rethink”.
The announcement came as no surprise to John Evans, owner of Diesel bookstores in Brentwood and Del Mar. “There is something big to lose,” he said. “We are all experiencing that loss this year.”
Even so, Evans felt that the fair was better suited to the needs of booksellers than the indie American Booksellers Assn. it ran. (Reed Exhibitions bought the ABA Convention in the mid-1990s and renamed it Book Expo America.)
Our North American Book Show may look different to our community in the future, but our commitment to providing you with a place to grow your business remains our true north in everything we do. Please read the following message from our Event Director Jenny Martin. pic.twitter.com/XBS4nkQeNo
– BookExpo (@BookExpoAmerica) December 1, 2020
“ABA was paid to do it, so some of the money went back to independent bookstores,” said Evans. But over the years, under ReedPop, he believed publishers were gradually losing interest in promoting their books at Congress.
“Even without COVID it became more and more untenable,” he said. “I think COVID was the last stroke, but it was already suffering and crawling in contradicting directions.”
Several fair veterans noticed the loss of focus. Paul Yamazaki, coordinating buyer at City Lights Books in San Francisco, has traveled to BookExpo almost every year since 1985. Authors, in a really clear way. And I think only in the past few years have there been some really brave attempts to bring it back and refocus, but it was still too little, too late. ”
More casual trade fair visitors were less nostalgic. Maureen Palacios, owner of Once Upon a Time in Glendale children’s bookstore, always believed the long trip to New York City wasn’t worth the cost. She only traveled to the show once.
“It was great because you got to meet a lot of people, but it was over the top and very, very commercial, and we didn’t find any real educational value for us at the time.”
She found more value in ABA’s Winter Institute, another major industry gathering. As BookExpo has shrunk, the institute, a more focused exhibition founded by ABA in 2005, has gained in influence. It will practically take place in February 2021.
The event was “more specific to what we needed,” said Palacios, “so unfortunately I don’t see it as a big deal for us.”
Julia Cowlishaw, managing director of Vroman and Book Soup, lamented the news but repeated Palacio’s argument in an email. “The rising cost of travel and hotels has meant fewer of us attend every year,” she said. “The timing is perfect to reinvent BookExpo and I look forward to the next iteration.”
For Allison K. Hill, ABA CEO, the news marked the end of a long chapter.
“BookExpo’s resignation feels like the end of an era,” she told the AP. “Right now we’re going to bring everyone together virtually.”
The challenge now, especially for those in control of the publishing industry at a time of increasing consolidation, is to adapt to new realities.
“Many of us will miss these meetings,” said Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster’s chief executive and president, in an email. “We are confident, however, that we will continue to find effective new ways to attract booksellers, librarians and literary enthusiasts to our upcoming books.”
City Lights’ Yamazaki put the changes into perspective. “As much as we regret the loss of BookExpo, the talks will continue. This is really one of the things that hasn’t changed in my five decades as a bookseller. The face-to-face conversations are still one of the key aspects of the book world. “
On social media, some authors and long-time BookExpo attendees complained about the news and shared their favorite memories of BookExpo. Some of their reactions are listed below.
I make the same joke almost every year when I go to #BookExpo & yes it’s exhausting & buggy & you literally have to schedule pee breaks & but I love it too & it’s the only time I see certain people in my industry & I’m sad that it probably ends forever. https://t.co/iRM6s80dMh
– Marlena Bittner (@lenabitts) December 1, 2020
I like to loathe the Javits, but 20 years ago, as a college senior, the editor I was interning for loaned me her BEA badge, and by the end of that day I had decided not to become a teacher after all. I wanted to work in publishing so thanks for everything, Book Expo. #RIPBookExpo
– Molly O’Neill (@molly_oneill) December 1, 2020
I’m a nerd who loved #bookexpo and will really miss it. Even hauling to the javits!
– Rebecca Lang (@itsrebeccalang) December 1, 2020
I’m sad about the BookExpo news because I loved seeing all of the book people I normally only interact with online. It was like summer camp for me every year.
Summer camp in the most infernal building imaginable with $ 8 bottles of water.
– Liberty 📖 (@MissLiberty) December 1, 2020