Last year BookExpo America invited the public for the first time. But because the decision was made relatively late and Power Readers Day—the day when consumers can visit the fair, if they have an invitation and pay the admission fee—fell on a weekday, attendance was slight, with only 500 consumers attending. This year, BEA has made a number of tweaks to create a more consumer-friendly show, including moving Power Readers Day to the weekend and adding programming oriented toward readers.
As a result, the fair is anticipating quadrupling the number of so-called power readers to at least 2,000 on Saturday, June 1, according to Roger Bilheimer, public relations/special events director for BEA. That’s in addition to the 7,500 retailers, booksellers, librarians, and other industry people who will also be at the show. Special programming includes author events like a talk by Neil Gaiman on “Why Fiction is Dangerous” and a talk by Jim Gaffigan on his new book, Dad Is Fat. Wally Lamb and Elizabeth Gilbert will speak on “Creating the Ultimate Book Club Experience,” which will be followed by a wine-and-cheese mixer.
“Public attendance at BEA is a dream come true in this brave new world of publisher-reader relationships,” says Jeff Seroy, senior v-p of publicity and marketing for Farrar, Straus and Giroux. “We’re thrilled and grateful to the show organizers that we’re able to meet with the readers of our books, to learn from them, share with them, and work with them to maximize their experience of our books and authors.”
Macmillan is one of several publishers offering incentives directed at consumers. The first thousand to check in on Saturday will each receive a goody bag filled with a galley from each imprint (except Macmillan Kids and Palgrave). Representatives from a dozen publishers will also offer a “speed-dating session” where they will meet with groups of readers for brief periods of time and present book group titles from their fall/winter lists. Power readers can relax in a lounge of their own, which will have information on Indie Next lists and ABA stores. They can even purchase books in the lounge through the Ingram Home Direct shipping program.
While BEA is doing its best to grow the public presence, some New York City booksellers worry that it may not be enough. “My dream is to have families clamoring to get special tickets from booksellers to attend and people coming to New York City just to go to the show. I would love to see this all happening faster,” says Chris Doeblin, owner of Book Culture in Morningside Heights, who is sending out 20,000 invitations. “I think 2013 will prove too timid a rollout again, but we’re on the way.”
If the public can help keep BEA vibrant, Rebel Bookseller author Andy Laties—manager of Bank Street Bookstore at Bank Street College, also in Morningside Heights—is eager to help get them to the show. Ever since Reed canceled Book Expo Canada in 2009 and rumors began circulating that BEA might merge with the American Library Association meeting, he has been concerned about bolstering attendance at BEA. “I definitely want to help the show survive,” he says. “It would be great if it could be a successful show.” Last year his store used the Power Reader Day invitations as bag stuffers, and he plans to do the same again this year, although he says that turning BEA into a consumer show could take a lot more changes than the ones slated for June.
Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner of Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore, says, “We did hear good things from customers who attended BEA last year. Anecdotally, an acquaintance who’s not in the book industry was telling me she’s so excited about going to BEA this year, since she wants to get a book signed by one of her favorite authors. She didn’t even know that our store was helping to facilitate [by distributing invitations], so I think there is excitement on the consumer side. And Greenlight is glad to be part of that.”
For BEA’s Bilheimer, introducing consumers to the show expands the opportunity to explore and energize marketing possibilities. “In the final analysis,” he says, “it’s all about the buzz, which has always been at the heart and soul of BEA’s mission.”