A Hit or Miss Day at BEA

Josie Leavitt -- June 5th, 2012

Well, the first day of BEA ended with a sort of ho-hum reaction from many attendees, myself included. The problem was Monday was billed as the Day of Education and there was very little education to be had, and for many who came in very early in the morning, or stayed over an extra night in New York City, this was a disappointment.

I feel like the ABA has weighted all its educational endeavors in the yearly Winter Institutes. The problem with that lies in the attendance cut-off of 500 booksellers. So that leaves many booksellers who are still eager for learning opportunities. And there were very few to be had on Monday.

I arrived in time to hear Lynn Sherr interview Richard Russo about Why Indies Matter.  This was a very relaxed conversation, but it was not a galvanizing event. No one left fired up or feeling better about indies. I know I left thinking: well, Amazon is going to be the death of all us. Richard said that his new book, Interventions, was above 200,000 in its Amazon rank until this past weekend when Amazon sent out an email to everyone who had ever bought a Russo title. By Saturday, its rank was just over 1,000 (currently it’s 2,335). To hear an admired author talk about his success on Amazon was so disheartening.

But I loved it when he said, “Publishers need to find a spine,” as did the audience, judging by the rousing applause. He was speaking specifically about why publishers sell e-books on Amazon for $9.95 the day the hardcover comes out. Richard rightly likened Jeff Bezos to a schoolyard bully who everyone’s afraid to stand up to. I couldn’t agree more. But I also know how tight things are for publishers, so there’s no real easy answer.

There was a lot of free time built into the day, and that ultimately felt frustrating. I chose not to go to Indies Internationals, but I did go to the Roundtables and I tried to listen to the Creating Community Connections, but I could barely hear. There were three Roundtables in one room and it was a struggle for all of us to hear what folks at our table were talking about. I noticed that there were several empty rooms in the hall that could have housed each of the Roundtables and that might have been more conversation if we’d broken up.

I did learn at the Roundtable that World Book Night was extremely good for all bookstores and everyone is excited for it for next year. Another thing that has stores very eager for the summer is the Where’s Waldo promo that Candlewick is doing. I’ll have more on that later, we’re doing it and I think it’s a great way to get customers into lots of stores in your community. Some stores charge for all off-site events and they’ve found it really successful. This surprised me as some folks charge $10 in addition to a book. That seems like a lot to me, but more power to them for trying to not only recoup costs but make a little money.

If I were in charge of the schedule, next year I’d change some things. The first thing I would do is either not have the Day of Education as a separate day, or I’d fill it with multiple sessions that offer real education. The second thing I would do is move the Children’s Institute day to the first day, before the trade show floor opens, so children’s booksellers don’t miss a whole day of the show floor.

More tomorrow from BEA.


4 thoughts on “A Hit or Miss Day at BEA

  1. Carol Chittenden

    I was disappointed that the wonderful social events — parties, dinners, tours, auction, etc., were once again all jammed together on two evenings — but Monday evening there was nothing. While I don’t demand, or even expect, to be wined and dined, these occasions are such fruitful opportunities to meet authors, editors, colleagues, it’s frustrating to have to decline at least half of the invitations, and then spend an evening twiddling the thumbs.

    And I was APPALLED to attend one large party and find Amazon in attendance as well.

  2. Lisa

    “Publishers” don’t charge $9.99 for ebooks. At my company, ebooks carry the same retail price as our most current physical book format. But amazon discounts prices at their own discretion. They might lose money on every sale at $9.99 but they gain market share and build customer loyalty (and customer expectation that this is what ebook prices SHOULD be) and if they ultimately erode the business of publishing itself, well they’ll just publish themselves. This problem has been the substance of heated controversy and debate for years now, and publishers efforts to counter this ultimately destructive strategy with ‘agency pricing’ were rewarded with a Department of Justice lawsuit alleging ‘price fixing’ or somesuch. So… we may be spineless in other matters (though when amazon sales constitute more than half of your revenue ‘getting a spine’ is easier for Russo to say than for us to do – he accepts royalties from those sales I imagine?) but don’t blame us for ebook pricing. We don’t like it either, and our whole beloved industry as well as our jobs are in jeopardy because of it.

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