Global dreams, local challenges: BEA to open amid transition

Global dreams, local challenges: BEA to open amid transition

Amazon's shadow, BookCon's boost, IDPF's confab, Chinese Trajectory, scalding-hot Scalzi: Must be BEA

Just in time to chill the rising heat of late-May New York: news of troubled talks in the UK between the biggest bookseller and the biggest book publisher on Earth.

As my colleague Philip Jones writes at The Bookseller, "Penguin Random House UK and Amazon are in dispute over terms, with a new contract under negotiation. If a deal is not reached Amazon could begin to pull or downgrade the availability of PRH titles from its ecommerce channels as it did with Hachette Book Group USA titles last year. With a number of PRH titles in Amazon's current bestseller chart, there is no indication as yet that Amazon is ratcheting up the pressure on PRH UK."

What little comment has been heard so far plays down talk of a rift. Jones writes: "PRH said that it had 'no intention whatsoever of ceasing to sell [its] print or digital titles on Amazon'; Amazon spokesman Tarek El-Hawary, in an emailed response to Recode, stated: 'I can say that we have long-term deals in place already with the other four major publishers and we would accept any similar deal with Penguin Random House U.K.'”

But a bump like this is all that's needed to rev the mighty Jacob Javits Center air-conditioning system. As the second of the big-three annual publishing trade shows (after London Book Fair in April and before Frankfurt Book Fair in October), BookExpo America (#BEA15) never seems more frenetic than when there are fresh doubts afoot.

This year, the show's director, Steven Rosato (pictured), promises:

  • Not quite 1,000 exhibitors from more than 40 countries;
  • More than 600 author appearances; and
  • An aggregate registration of more than 11,000 attendees from 85 countries.

As big as that is, it's all crowded into a smaller, not larger, time frame.




Shorter BEA, longer BookCon

BEA this year spans only two-and-a-half days, not a full three. And while the trade show already faces an arduous move to Chicago next year (12th to 14th May) from New York — a  prospect not playing well among the publi-rati in Manhattan — its BookCon event appears to be in the ascendency.

As Reed Exhibitions' BEA becomes more compact, ReedPOP's BookCon expands — from one to two days, Saturday and Sunday (30th and 31st May), and from 10,000 people in its inaugural doing last year to 20,000 ticket holders this year. By Sunday evening, BookCon attendees will have outnumbered BEA attendees, in other words, roughly two-to-one.

The context for the BookCon development was laid out in frank detail by BEA's former director, Lance Fensterman (pictured), in Berlin at Klopotek's Publishers' Forum in April.

As described in my earlier write-up of Fensterman's account of the rise of BookCon, the intent and success of BookCon is in its cultivation of a populist "con"-style event for the most passionate lay fans of trade-industry books and book-related entertainment: readers. A major feature of the BookCon programme, for example, is The Laugh Button Live (graphic above), an hourlong comedians' showcase headlined by John Ldguizamo.

One of the key points to note is that as BookCon solidifies its hold on the reader-outreach element of BEA's events, the two-and-a-half-day trade show itself is effectively cordoned off for members of the industry only, something exhibitors have made clear is important to them.

IDPFs Reader Emphasis at Digital Book 2015

And "Putting Readers First" is the over-arching theme of this year's BEA flagship conference International Digital Publishing Forum's (IDPF) Digital Book conference, as well. The event stands in rough parallel to the Publishing for Digital Minds conference mounted at the beginning of LBF each year, under Orna O'Brien's direction. Opening at the Javits on Wednesday morning before the trade show floor opens, IDPF's #DigiBook15 — for which I've served as programme director — is focused this year on the the bid for reader connection, direct-to-customer, now a driving impetus throughout the industry.

After opening comments from IDPF's Bill McCoy, London's Michael Bhaskar of Canelo (and author of a forthcoming book from Little, Brown UK on curation) sets the context of "Customer as Curator"; Bloomsbury's and the International Publishers' Association's Richard Charkin looks at the challenges of "Putting Readers First on a Global Scale"; frequent TED Talker and gaming specialist Jane McGonigal looks at "Engaging the Gamer Generation with the Future of Books"; Elite Daily creator David Arabov talks with HarperCollins' Jim Hanas about "Giving Your Readership a Voice"; Goodreads' Otis Chandler is joined by PRH's Amanda Close, HarperCollins' Angela Tribelli, and Logical Agency's Peter McCarthy on the "Fracturing Book Discovery Landscape"; "What Publishers  Can Do Better to Put Readers First" is discussed by Richard Nash, Hugh McGuire, FutureBook contributor Molly Barton, and Joe Wikert, formerly of Tools of Change; and the question of whether Amazon is "Good for Readers?" is debated by Edward Nawotka, Andrew Albanese, Kristin Nelson, and Boris  Kachka."

Booking the competition: that Scalzi deal

"Buzz" being the branding of choice at BEA, getting an early jump on so much that will be lost in the chatter is a time-honoured strategy.

You can see that approach being implemented by Macmillan's TOR, which has announced what John Schwartz at the New York Times calls an eye-opening $3.4 million, 10-year deal with science-fiction author John Scalzi for 13 books.

Scalzi (pictured), typically engaging at his own popular blog site, has devised a self-Q&A in which he asks himself, "So, do you have thirteen books in your head?" and answers:

When I went in to talk to Tor about this, I presented the folks there with a proposed release schedule for the next decade, with synopses of every book. So, yes, I do. Will every single book I’ve proposed hit the shelves? Probably not; there’s flexibility for us to read the market and take advantage of what’s going on as it happens. But it’s always nice to have a plan.

Scalzi adds: "Audio isn’t covered in this deal, for example. Neither are foreign language sales, or film/TV."

And meanwhile back at the Javits, the traditional popularity of the "BEA Buzz" events will carry on, of course, in four events, BEA Editors Buzz, BEA Adult Buzz Authors, BEA YA Editors' Buzz, BEA MG Editors' Buzz.

Of particular interest, an "Opening Day Spotlight" has been added with Jonathan Franzen in conversation with Laura Miller of Salon, followed by the usual densely scheduled events including Author Breakfasts, Author Stages, author autograph sessions, and topical presentations. Those are loosely clustered under the "conferences" banner at BEA and laid out in dizzying competition with each other, a Reed Exhibitions tradition.

A Chinese Trajectory: new partnership announced

Devised in coordination with Rüdiger Wischenbart (who directs Berlin's Publishers' Forum), BEA's Global Market Forum recognises China as the show's Country of Honour for 2015 — not to mention the world's biggest rising publishing market — and is an extensive programme of events in itself.

With so many Chinese visitors on-hand, the events roster is particularly deep this year and likely to keep interested industry players darting from the floor of the vast exhibition hall to the conference rooms for presentations. You can get an overview on this PDF from BEA.

FutureBook and Bookseller readers will be interested to learn that we have exclusive information from digital publishing start-up Trajectory that it will announce on Wednesday a major new ebook distribution partnership with the Chinese bookseller Dangdang.

The deal will see Trajectory's text-based recommendation analysis system deployed in reader recommendations for the first time by a retailer.

Presenting an English catalogue to Dangdang's 4.5 million unique site visitors daily — books drawn from partners including the newly added learner, Boom! Studios, and Futa-Fata — the Trajectory system's NLP (natural language processing) algorithms will offer ratings of each book to Chinese readers who are interested in learning English, along with a "complexity index" to guage a book's difficulty.

BEA's Global Forum programme for China includes a series of off-site cultural events — perhaps of interest to those who welcome a chance, any chance, to get out of the Javits Center.

BEA information estimates China's publishing market to have stood at some $19.4 billion in 2012, roughly half that of the States' at the time. It is thought that the country now is producing some half-a-million new titles each year. Past Global Market Forum countries have included Mexico, Russia, Spain, Italy, and the Arab World.