This year, the industry trade show Book Expo America (BEA) opened its doors to non-industry types, giving readers one day to flood New York’s Javits Center and connect with literary superstars at BookCon, a fan-driven event that grew out of the previous years’ Power Readers Day. While BookCon was a hit with many, bringing thousands of readers out to fill the show floor and rub elbows with their favorite authors, the event was not without some hiccups. Changes are already in store for next year’s iteration.
More than 10,000 industry aficionados, including librarians, publishers, and booksellers, were on hand for the BEA portion of the event, while BookCon was a sold out show, moving all 10,000 tickets that were made available. Organized by ReedPop, the pop culture-focused arm of Reed Exhibition, which hosts BEA proper, BookCon took cues for its feel from the company’s more established outings, such as the New York Comic Con, emphasizing the chance for fans to interact with authors in events like panels and Q&A sessions. And of course, attendees had the opportunity to pick up some free swag.
“For us, BEA and BookCon were a terrific three days. Our two Childrens divisions were thrilled by the fan frenzy over their authors at BookCon, and all of us were very glad about the many opportunities we had for our authors to meet librarians and booksellers at our BEA booths’ book signings,” said Penguin Random House spokesperson Stuart Applebaum.
The frenzy that resulted will be familiar to anyone who has attended the events that BookCon used as a model. “The show floor is eerily similar to NYCC, and I’m beginning to suspect that all ReedPop conventions look exactly the same,” youth services librarian and comics blogger Ivy Noelle Weir wrote in a post about the show. That vibe didn’t sit well with many attendees, who had complaints about lines and crowds in the Javits Center. At The Bawdy Book Blog, reviewer Jennifer James described the lines for author signings as being “like a horrible mosh pit without any good music to justify being there.”
Of course, if you can get 10,000 people to crowd into a building for an event like this, you must be doing something right. Reed and BEA are accentuating the positive and accommodating the demand by expanding BookCon to a two-day event that will span the weekend following BEA, eliminating overlap between the two events. Next year, BEA will run from Wednesday, May 27 to Friday, May 29, and BookCon will be in full effect the following Saturday and Sunday. The hope is that expanding the schedule will alleviate some of the complaints that attendees had about crowds and lines.
“To those that had complaints about BookCon—with lines, crowding, etc… Those complaints were valid and this split will allow us to mitigate all of those issues,” BEA event director Steve Rosato said in a blog post.
But making the two events separate also means publishers will have to pay twice for a seat at the table—once for BEA, and once for BookCon—which makes exhibiting a pricey proposition, and perhaps prohibitively so for smaller publishing houses. Dennis Johnson, founder of Melville House Press, said BookCon was a good experience for the publishing house that helped them reach a lot of readers—especially young readers—that they wouldn’t ordinarily get in front of.
Even though the experience was positive, the cost of exhibiting, which had prevented Melville House from coming to BEA for the last five years prior to 2014, remains a concern for the press. According to Johnson, that’s especially true with the split into two events driving those prices up next year. “We’ll be doing it next year, though we’re extremely distressed about the pricing,” Johnson told LJ. “For a little press, it’s a hell of an investment. It’s not really ideal, but we’re going to take the opportunity to introduce ourselves to new young readers.” While Melville House will be on hand next year, Johnson predicted the publisher would take a year or two off following that appearance.
BookCon’s ups and downs started even before the doors of the Javits Center swung open. The one day show got off to a bumpy start earlier this year, when an all white lineup of authors prompted a social media uproar calling for more diversity in the slate of guests scheduled for BookCon. The response included a hashtag campaign, #weneeddiversebooks, that attracted loads of media attention. It also resulted in the creation of a well-attended panel at BookCon, addressing the need for more diversity in literature for kids and teens.