Being a Part of It: Report from BEA in New York - @Tom_Chalmers

Being a Part of It: Report from BEA in New York - @Tom_Chalmers

Having just returned from New York, where I attended BookExpo America (BEA) for the first time, including speaking at the Author Hub and participating in uPublishU, I thought I would put down what I learnt. I could talk about what an amazing city New York is, but sadly will stick to work-related thoughts:

BEA is about selling books – unlike other major book fairs such as Frankfurt and London, which are focussed on business to business deals, BEA is a lot more centred on actual book sales and to the public. This was evidenced by the long queues to the ‘autographing area’ and the large number of book signings with the biggest name US authors.

When not trying to move though the crowds, it was refreshing to see many thousands of book buyers under one large roof – the lifeblood for all sectors of the book industry. And even with the chance-to-see-a-celebrity angle, it was fantastic and reaffirming to see vast queues leading up to book purchases. That can only be a good thing.

Book Fairs are now welcoming authors, just – as London had an enlarged author area in April, BEA launched its Author Hub, with talks and tables for starting out to bestselling self-published authors in a defined area. uPublishU was also a fantastic event,  well-organised with a great collection of panels and panelists covering a wide-range of issues, opportunities and advice for authors.

While the book fairs are now accepting that they should include authors, where to include them hasn’t yet been fully cracked. The Author Hub was next to the large and often loud Downtime Stage and uPublishU took place next to BookCon (the licensing panel I was on took place at the same time as a John Green signing next door; he just won on the head count). But it’s a good start and all the key book fairs will get there.

The Rights Center is an oasis – usually frenetic at other book fairs, above and away from the main exhibitor hall, which I originally thought would be a pain, the Rights Center was a place of calm, helped by a wide view out over the Hudson River.  There was also a pleasing focus on licensing – representing the IPR License platform, I had a busy table meeting with companies and individuals understanding and excited by the opportunity to increase their global licensing business.

Publishing is a small world – having travelled several thousand miles it was nice if slightly surreal to see many familiar faces. I love the myriad of different countries and markets represented at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and BEA was mainly made up of the main Western English-speaking markets – US and UK in particular.  However, while being a smaller section of the global market, those that were there were well-represented with key people in attendance. Possibly because we all know each other but there was a relaxed and nice buzz across the fair.

Food and drink is terrible at book fairs – I sometimes wonder if there is some type of city cartel going on at all of the book fairs, putting in terrible food and drink to flush the starved and thirsty out into the streets to spend their money. Back to the business…

We’re changing, just don’t ask how, yet – we have now moved passed increasingly stressed people looking to do what they’ve always done, ignoring the fact there’s increasing less of it to be done. There is now a full acceptance of change, which makes these next few years a pivotal and exciting time. 

The point that I don’t feel has been reached yet, though getting closer, particularly for many of the largest companies, is a clear definition of that change. I hear a lot of what’s being considered, looked at, discussed, monitored and not so much of clear in-place strategy. But this next stage will come and, while it’s being considered, it makes for great opportunities for independent and/or nimble companies and start-ups to take a lead or head in new and exciting directions.

So, was it worth the trip? Definitely. In addition to the business completed (being obsessive, I always set a multiple in my head of cost of trip to revenue created), new plans started or existing ones advanced, there is no better way to get an understanding of a market than to be standing it in. And, to say it twice, New York is a fantastic city.

Happy to hear your thoughts as always – @Tom_Chalmers