Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book ‘Em, Danno. A Report from BookExpo America

The following report on the most recent BookExpo America in New York City was written by syndicated columnist Michael J. Herman . . .

In an economic environment where everyone is consciously wondering where and when the next shoe will drop, it is refreshing to see that things are not as grim in Whoville as they seem. Predictions for this year’s Book Expo America (BEA), which took place at New York’s Jacob Javits Center several weeks ago, were dismal at best.

Rumors of the show's imminent demise seem surprisingly premature. Godfrey Harris of The Americas Group, a Los Ageles-based consulting firm said: “In today’s new publishing landscape, BEA is becoming increasingly irrelevant.”

However, rather than downtrodden and gloomy exhibitors, and listless and apathetic attendees, BEA '09 has proven instead a vibrant and excited group of reinvented individuals. Well, many of them, anyway.

While the industry as a whole continues to struggle with its own identity, figuring out why it's a different world out there, and how it can get its archaic paradigms to fit into the new business models, others are embracing the new trends with gusto. By and large, the old guard continues to reign supreme. Brands like Random House, Simon and Schuster, Wiley and Bertelsmann dominate and are the bullies on the block, but the cracks in the walls are apparent to nearly everyone at the show.

No matter to whom you speak, the buzz is about the now ubiquitous transformation of e-books and the even greater rise in popularity of the small press and greater influence of the independent publisher.

Once thought to be a shear aberration, the e-book now promises to serve as savior to an industry that could be witnessing its own rapid demise. The fall of broad appeal brands like Circuit City and Mervyns foreshadow a dismal hope for longevity of niche retailers like Barnes & Noble or Borders.

The question should now be plainly posed: Can the book industry rely on the good graces of Walmart, Costco, and Amazon to provide the effective and wide enough distribution for books, music, software, and other media? Or will the only 2½% of the publishing industry represented by e-books and downloads be able to save us all? Consider the following when answering this question:

-The 2010 BEA will be cut from three days to only two days.

-The Trade Publishing Industry as a whole is experiencing what much of the economy is feeling, a seizing spasmodic choking of revenue and profits from all sectors.

-With the rise in popularity offered by iPods and other downloadable book readers, is BEAs necessary? And,

-How can traditional publishing models continue to succeed, when to survive in the new paradigms they must shift their models and give up what they have known to be stable? Can the changes work?

The change in the length of the show is a mistake according to industry video blogger Kurt Aldag of He has been pressuring the ABA [Editor's note: BEA is produced by a sister company of Publishers Weekly] which produces the BEA to change its plan from two days in the middle of the week for only industry folks to attend, instead move the show to Thursday and Friday for trade and open it up to the book buying public Saturday and Sunday.

“After all” claims the web TV producer, “the exhibitors are already there with books to sell. The publishers are there with their authors and the media is there waiting for interview savvy dynamos like Ben Mizrich, author of The Accidental Billionaire: The Founding of Facebook to wow them.” Besides which, the Frankfurt Book Fair, (the world’s largest and most successful publishing expo has well proven that this formula works.

According to publishing magnet Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, this expo is the answer to the industry’s woes. “This is where the most forward thinking thought leaders in the world come to convene for the single cause of publishing. There are no venues in the world containing more positive and motivated people fixated on creating a better world in one location than at BEA. These are the people and companies that know how to solve problems.”

Hansen’s optimism isn’t surprising. He’s built a virtual publishing empire based on the concept of things can always get better. The Chicken Soup brand alone has sold more than 800 million books worldwide. He’s even taken substantial steps to ensure the continued growth of the publishing industry and access to all by launching his own imprint Hansen House and the new web-based where even beginners can compete with Mark Victor Hansen.

But even with these new outlets designed to compete with Viacom’s massive financial brawn, or Bertelsmann’s global reach, consumers are tired of the old ways and things have changed.

Reid Tracey, with Hay House Publishing, sees the rise of devices like the iPod, iPhone, iTouch, and Sony’s new E-book Reader, are indicative of where the industry simply must go. “Readers are younger, more-savvy, more technical, more educated, more information-starved, and have shorter attention spans. They want it and they want it now.”

He’s right if you consider that the most profitable brands like Harry Potter, Lord of The rings, Twilight, and Jonas Brothers all target young readers.

More than 65 million Kindle e-book downloads have been sold in under two-years and the brands with e-book readers on the way, are betting big that this trend toward portability of content, and cheap accessibility will continue as far as the third eye can see.

The prediction by publishing industry guru Dan Poynter, author of The Self Publishing Manual suggests that the e-book will experience its next tipping point when big names, celebrities, politicians, and tent pole marquis authors choose to publish their big stories by e-format, and forego the prestige commonly associated with printed books.

This opinion is shared by tech publishing guru Yanik Silver of, who contends that at this point there is no reason to publish traditionally, unless your objective is to be at the mercy of someone with little imagination and an even smaller vision of what is possible. “Publishing electronically is the future and you simply can’t escape that fact.”

Observations Worth Noting at This Year’s BEA:

>> There was a marked shift in exhibitors to more book and publishing related booths and a clear decrease in the number of non-book exhibitors like toys, games, music, consumer products, devices, and personalities.

>> Exhibitors consistently reported fewer qualified leads, but bigger orders and higher priced orders than last year. This is consistent with some other recent tradeshow studies.

>> The quality of titles of all kinds, small press, or by the major houses is the highest they’ve ever been. This made possible by the advent and popularity of digital printing.

If you really want to get the pulse of the book selling industry, buy a new book and read it. Do your part. Take a good book to bed.

Proving that the book publishing and book selling businesses are no laughing matter, even CBS late night talk show wise cracker Craig Fergusson has a new book chronicling his journey to American citizenship. When I asked Fergusson what the secret to his success in so many creative areas is, he chided and said, “I really don’t know.” When pressed a little more, he confessed, “I think I finally got comfortable with who I really am. When I let the world see it, the world wasn’t such a bad place.”

-- Michael J. Herman is a syndicated columnist and author of the bestselling Becoming The Complete Champion: One Motivational Minute at a Time (2003 Motivational Minute Press). Mike coaches authors, speakers, and entrepreneurs in the effective and systematic ways to build profitable enterprises. Mike can be reached at
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