Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why A Smaller BookExpo Might be a Better BookExpo…….

So let’s just put it out there - BookExpo will be smaller this year, no doubt. The economy and the state of our industry has dictated that publishers take out smaller booths (some not at all), send less staffers, and some attendee groups will also send fewer staffers. This is fact. However here at BookExpo World Headquarters (rows of cubes and offices in lovely Connecticut) we've made a series of decisions, particularly around attendees, that will consciously, regardless of the economy, change the shape of the event. Crazy?

Look at the numbers and decide, but we have felt strongly that BookExpo needs to evolve into a more focused, high level event where publishers can connect with the key influencers in the book industry. I should point out that we didn’t just arrive at this conclusion recently; we have felt that this would be beneficial for a while and the real question has been how to get there. Admittedly, it is a challenging year to make choices to limit participation in a show when the economy is already doing that for us, but ultimately less people, provided they are the “right” people, is healthy for the show long term.

That said, our goal can be summed up as follows: achieve a lower number of attendees of higher quality walking through an exhibit floor filled with smaller booths from exhibitors who are now focused on content and engaging those attendees, as opposed to focusing on things like the size and color of their booth. That’s a mouthful but it does define where we’re at.

Through the years we have done what comes naturally and instinctively in the trade show business, which is to provide more attendees, more panels, more events, and bigger booths. But what we have found at BEA is that despite all this growth, or perhaps because of it, customers have not been finding each other. We had, to use a less than eloquent colloquialism, put 10 pounds of show into a 5 pound bag.

This year we made a conscious decision to focus on quality not quantity in as many forms as we could. We've cut our number of educational panels in half and focused on higher end events like the CEO Round Table, all programmed by our Conference Advisory Board. The conference is smaller, more focused, higher quality and programmed by the industry for the industry. We've created more platforms for authors but done it on the show floor to keep the focus (and the people) where they belong. Lastly and most significantly, we've put in place strict registration procedures to ensure that those attending BEA are the quality trade professionals our exhibiting customers want to see. I won't bore you with all the details, but we've created new categories for attendee registration, putting in place strict credential requirements to verify their status as trade professionals and we have dramatically raised the price for all attendees who we deem secondary or less important. In short, and to be perfectly blunt, we have tried to define and target those attendees who our customers do not consider of high value in order to discourage them from attending.

So what does that mean, and why might a smaller BEA be a better BEA?

The numbers:

Currently (2 weeks out from the show) the show physically (the square footage of booths) is looking to be about 20%-25% smaller than 2008 in L.A. However, registration of attendees is 50% higher than in L.A. This equates to more people on a smaller exhibit floor which may mean busier aisles. But the important question to ask is who are those people and how do they compare to NYC in 2007 (a more "apples to apples" comparisons)?

Comparing 2007 to 2009 (NYC to NYC), the number of registered attendees is currently down 30%. Our librarian numbers are down about 25%, which is disappointing, but our ABA members numbers are almost flat (100 or so down). Meanwhile, the Industry Professional category, which is our catch-all "other" or "Miscellaneous" category, is down dramatically from 2600 to 250. So who were those people? We haven’t wanted to eliminate anyone of value so we created new badge categories (Publishing Consultant, Non Editorial Media, TV/Film Production, Licensing/Right/Agent and Non Profit/Association) and those new categories currently total about 1,000. This means we have eliminated 1350 attendees from the Industry Professional category based on pre registration and I would argue, after looking through the registrations lists line by line, that these are the attendees that our exhibiting customers told us were not of high value to them.

One last point, currently our exhibitor registration (booth personnel, publishing staffers, assistants, etc) is down 35%. This, too, is a category which I think needed some shrinking.

So what does all this mean in the simplest of terms? For BookExpo in NYC we are going to see an appropriately smaller exhibit floor with less "low quality" attendees, less exhibiting personnel and roughly the same number of retailers, ABA booksellers, national booksellers, and authors. Unfortunately, we will see a few less librarians but I am hoping that this is temporary, a result of very tight budgets in very hard economic times.

My mantra this year has been that BEA is about connectivity and I think our numbers and our new shape and size will help us in this critical respect. As I said at the beginning of this entry, BEA needs to be a high level book industry event where publishers can connect with key influencers. We need to make this connection easier, not harder, and I genuinely think we may be on the road to doing just that.



Anonymous said...

I'm so glad BEA feels it's important to weed out the riffraff in publishing! Especially those unwashed masses who have been paying exorbitant exhibitor fees for decades before they realized it wasn't worth it.

I suggest you hire yourself a good PR firm to do damage control on this insane post, and also get yourself a copy of Strunk & White so you can learn the difference between "less" and "fewer." All the "right" people know it.

Anonymous said...

Did Fensterman just get slammed?.... LOL!!! The title should actually read "Why A Dying BookExpo Might be Better off Dead……." It's kinda catchy, Don't ya think???

Lance Fensterman said...

I totally got slammed! It's OK, read through some of the NYCC related posts and the corresponding comments - it's the risk of putting your name on something. To be clear, the goal is not to limit those in publishing from attending, but rather those attendees that exhibiting customers have said are not of the greatest value to them (for example an unpublished author). And in fact those attendees may still attend, but the price is certainly not the same as a bookseller, librarian, rights professional, editor, etc. As for Strunk and White, my poor spelling and grammar has been pointed out by anonymous posters in the past. Its ok, I'm content with the fact it's not a strong suit of mine. Is the show dying? I don’t know, but my responsibility is to create the best event possible for our customers in a changing environment. I hope it’s not dying, I’m fond of it.

katzinoire said...

I would prefer quality over quantity in these times. It is an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons-a smaller writer who may not have had a chance to meet with publishers may get their chance because of the more intimate atmosphere. And not for nothing, opinions are key-I just wish when people would write such strong criticisms, they add their name-your feedback is important to the quality of this show-whatever issues you may have-and it looks like you have some-why slam the Expo when you can provide constructive criticisms that can streamline and make it better for both the exhibitor and the attendee? Anyone can identify an issue, it takes thought and action to resolve it. So you pointed out a problem-tell me Anonymous-how would YOU fix it-we are all ears here.

Torsten Adair said...

You run the risk of BookExpo becoming Toy Fair.

What happens when publishers follow the toy companies' model and host invitation/appointment only meetings at their corporate offices, thereby avoiding not only the riff-raff but also booksellers and librarians?

And Toy Fair exhibitors hand out very little swag.

I attend BookExpo mostly to network and discover new titles. Meeting authors and getting free stuff is nice, but not paramount.

The crazy thing is... the movers and shakers, the ones who talk up books... they're not at BookExpo. They don't know about it, they don't get the emails, they can't afford it. BOOKSELLERS, the hourly employees that shelve the books, help customers, and share their passions with everyone, they're not at Javits. (In the movie industry, word of mouth is cultivated among hairdressers.) (Heck... how many store managers attend?)

I go, because I know what I can gain from BookExpo. Every year, I would return to my store with a stack of catalogs for the store and for the area I was responsible for.

Perhaps you should host a "Bookseller's Day" on Sunday. Show proof you work for a bookstore (pay stub, business letterhead...) and get in for $10. Or mail out a letter with a special registration code or have a special email address where store managers can email a confirmation.

Here's your homework, Lance:
Scan your list of attendees from Barnes & Noble for the past ten years. How many were from the home office, and how many were from regional offices and stores?

Your goal? 1:1 attendance.

Your second homework assignment:
Compare the list of exhibitors for ALA with that of BEA. How much overlap is there? What do you offer librarians which ALA does not? (How about a $50 shipping voucher for all the free books they pick up?) Again, perhaps you should offer a special discount on Sunday for library employees.

Cynthia Christensen said...

My family and own a small bookstore in Hood River, Oregon. My 3 daughters and I are, wait for it...BOOKSELLERS! and we are going to BEA this year. Is it expensive. Yes. Can we afford it in this economy? Probably not. But we are going anyway? Hell yes. Authors are our rock stars, books are our heroin (good mommy here), and this is something we all feel compelled to do. BEA does have an important role for booksellers, getting us up close and personal to the producers of the products we sell and, damn it, that's important enough to keep it going in our minds.

Victoria Sutherland said...

Lance has put in more than an honest effort to keep THE trade show for booksellers and other industry professionals a vibrant entity, in an environment which often seems hostile and working against themselves. There are many pricing options for publishers of all sizes to have a presence here. The programming is relevant and informative for every class of book publishing professional, in and of itself worth the ticket price. Efforts to limit traffic to attendees who are there to do business not simply see and be seen is an honorable justification, not spin, even if it means less in the aisles. We will be there for our twelfth year exhibiting-- perhaps not with the entire staff as in years past, but enough to make it pay for itself--which is our business model. We get so tired of hearing people complain about the way things are done, but never offer up positive, alternative ideas. Soon enough, there may not be industry trade shows, review magazines or journalists who report on the publishing community, each here to help you do your jobs better in their own ways. Without your support, we are gone, then how will you give a voice to your books--above the cacophony of 300,000 other titles competing against you for consumer dollars?

Anonymous said...

I will say this. My wife works in the business and has direct contact with Lance. She says he is a wonderful person and hard worker who is trying to confine to changing budgets in the publishing world.
So, kudos to Lance.

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