What Does Our Trade Show Say About Us?

Josie Leavitt -- May 1st, 2014

I usually get ready early for Book Expo, mapping out my educational sessions and which publishers I’d like to visit. This year I’ve looked at the schedule and something feels missing to me. I pondered for a while and looked at the ABA website more thoroughly and noticed that this year seems more about networking and less about education.

I missed BEA last year and didn’t go to Winter Institute because the store couldn’t afford the airfare to Seattle. So, this BEA I’m ready to dig in and go get some education. Hell, after missing these events, I’m even ready for another go-round with the infamous-always-offered 2% Solution class where we all learned that if we just managed our finances 2% better through cost of goods sold, maximizing returns, etc., our stores would succeed. What’s become clear to me is that this year is BEA is more about meeting the folks behind the scenes in the publishing world. This makes sense, but it does make things harder.

Here’s my issue: it seems now that Winter Institute has really taken off, so  this is where the bulk of the ABA educational opportunities lie. To some degree this makes sense. Better to have three totally focused days on education, rather than divide our time between education and trying to see the vast show floor. But, as someone coming from a small store with not a lot of staff, who wants some education mixed in with looking at new books, having two things I need to leave work for seems unfair and expensive. Since leaving the store in January is hard for me for a variety of reasons, I always feel like I get more bang for my buck by going to BEA.

I was perusing the session lists and one session in particular caught my attention: The Future of Bricks and Mortar Bookselling. I was thinking this might offer some hands-on ideas that I could use back at home. I noticed that there’s not one bookseller on the panel: there is someone from a publisher, from Kobo, the book buyer from Target, and the head of ABA. This sends a message that perhaps the organizers of this session have conceded the future for bricks and mortar stores is dim at best.

There are other sessions that have caught my eye. As always the chance to meet with publishers is a great hook of BEA and this year there are several good chances. ABA’s Meet the Editors seems like a great opportunity to talk with the folks responsible for the trends we see on our shelves. And it would be great to get a sense of what’s coming down the pike in the next year or two. The ABC/CBC Illustrator Studio Tour is always fun. I love seeing how artists work and what their studios are like. It’s always magical to me to spend time with them. The session about the James Patterson’s Bookseller Pledge hold appeal insofar as I’d like to know how to get a grant, since the application process seems vague at best.

Perennial favorite session include the Speed Dating session and the Author/Illustrator Tea, where booksellers get to meet authors and illustrators. I’ve been in bookselling for 18 years and I never tire of meeting these talented people. Editor’s Buzz panels for Young Adult books and Middle Grade books is enormously helpful. I love finding out what they’re excited about and why.

There is a session on social media and Hootsuite, and since I don’t even know what Hootsuite is, I’m thinking maybe I should go. The other session that looks good is the Common Core Update. I think we all need this one as there is still confusion in my area about how the Common Core is actually working in schools.

So, booksellers, are you going to Book Expo this year? If you are, what about it excites you?

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