Is BEA DOA? (reprinted with permission from the IBPA Independent, March, 2010)
(I will be posting the monthly column I write for the IBPA Independent in this space starting this month.)
In the past 12 years, nobody’s ever placed an order for any of my company’s titles at BEA. In the midst of a slow economic recovery—when the publishing industry is locked in a seemingly irreconcilable debate about e-books vs. p-books, local bookstores continue to close their doors, teleconferences and webinars have replaced travel and seminars, and citizen reviewers/bloggers online far outnumber “professional” reviewers in print—why should an independent publisher devote time and resources to attend and exhibit at a trade show where nobody orders, nobody reviews, and (worse) attendance may on the skids?
The number of verified attendees at BEA in New York in 2009, not including exhibitors, was 12,025, up 30 percent from the year before but down 11 percent from the 2007 BEA in that same city. Seven thousand were book buyers, including buyers from Amazon, Target, Costco, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Books-A-Million. The remaining 5,000 were rights buyers, film and TV personnel, media, and authors.
As publishers, we market online all year via our Web sites, electronic catalogs, e-mail, e-newsletters, and social media, certainly reaching a potential audience much larger than those who attend BEA. And we can do it from the comfort of our own offices, without the hassle and expense of travel, printed marketing materials, and time away from our business.
So why, you (justifiably) wonder, do I go? Speaking with my publisher hat on, the answer can be summed up in one word:
I’m not suggesting that BEA has suddenly become the Match.com of the publishing industry. MEN stands for Marketing, Education, and Networking, and BEA provides fertile ground for all three.
No, not a single buyer has ever handed me an order at BEA. But here are some things that have happened:
- A contact I made there led to my selling audio rights to 10 of my titles.
- Another contact resulted in my selling electronic rights to all our titles to one of the largest educational databases on the planet.
- A contact who buys $350,000 worth of e-books for the U.S. Navy showed interest in our titles (the jury’s still out regarding an actual sale, but we are talking).
- I was able to “speed date” one-on-one with more than 75 children’s book buyers.
- I got to participate in the BEA autographing program, side by side with celebrities and bestselling authors from publishers large and small.
- I found that for every person who is after a giveaway to use as a gift (and there are always some), there is an equal number of buyers for bookstores, libraries, museum stores (my company’s market), and other miscellaneous sales channels who are truly interested in our book for possible purchase.
Still speaking as a publisher, the reason I can justify exhibiting at BEA is that, also for 12 years, I have not purchased my own booth for multiple thousands of dollars but have instead taken advantage of the IBPA cooperative booth’s prime location on the show floor and the affordable IBPA single-title price for displaying books. Those of you who have also done so know that the opportunity to work in the IBPA booth is an added benefit—an invaluable learning and networking experience.
But that was then, this is now, and the question remains: Is BEA still a good investment of your precious marketing dollars?
Big Changes for BEA 2010
IBPA Executive Director Terry Nathan and I serve, respectively, on the BEA Steering Committee and its Conference Advisory Board as IBPA’s (your) representatives, along with approximately 20 other experts from other industry interest groups. As many of you already know, BEA has been shortened to two days for the actual show itself and moved to a midweek schedule. (By now you also know that this has caused a change in our own Publishing University schedule, to two days instead of three.)
As I write this, planning for BEA is ongoing with the overriding goal of maximizing value for both exhibitors and attendees. How?
- by specifically targeting and proactively reaching out to the following communities—booksellers, librarians, media, and publishers
- by holding the line on exhibit costs to encourage publishers, especially midsized publishers, to return
- by growing the “buzz” and media coverage
Worthy goals, those, but what are some of the ways a smaller publisher at BEA can maximize value?
Need a distributor? They’re there under one roof so you can interview them in person.
Need a wholesaler? They’re there.
Need an e-tailer? They’re there.
Need a printer or a file converter? They’re there.
Need an education? We’re there!
IBPA’s Publishing University will be there preshow with the best of the best of publishing education that you’ve come to expect. Then during BEA, you can continue that education by walking the convention floor. Keeping your eyes and ears open will allow you an invaluable chance to discover the latest trends, what other publishers are doing, and how you might position your company to be out in front.
Need to sell your book?
Industry pundits point out that BEA has had an identity crisis, and nobody can deny that it is no longer a show where buyers write enough orders to keep publishers in business for another year. But Mark Twain’s famous quip, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” is true of BEA as well. Still the largest show for the book trade in the country, it offers opportunities that are second to none to meet, network with, and learn from the experts in our industry.
That’s why I still recommend without reservation that every publisher interested in playing in the book trade sandbox experience BEA—for marketing, for education, for networking, for ideas.
I understand that travel is expensive, and the economy has put a damper on just about every aspect of our financial lives. And certainly we all have to choose how we invest our education and marketing dollars to get the most bang from our hard-earned bucks.
As noted, I can testify that my in-person participation in BEA as a publisher represented in the IBPA display has been a valuable part of my company’s marketing plan for more than a decade. Your mileage may vary—nobody can guarantee what will happen to your titles at BEA (or any trade show, for that matter), and maybe nothing will.
But for less than $100 for a single-title display in the IBPA booth located right in the middle of the largest book industry convention in the United States, with potential exposure to thousands of trade eyeballs, isn’t it worth finding out?
I hope to see you in New York this May—at both Publishing University and BEA.