Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Book Expo 2019: Reflecting On 3 Decades Of BEA America

As my attendance at Book Expo America, 2019, ran its course this past week at the Javits Center in New York, I felt the urge to reflect back on three decades of participating in the largest book industry event in America.

My first BEA was actually called ABA (American Booksellers Association).  The name changed in the mid-90’s when the show got taken over by Reed Exhibits.  I was at my first job, with Shapolsky Publishers (now defunct).  It was in Las Vegas and that was my first time out to deserted casino territory.  It was around tne time it was transitioning to br Disneyfied bur still showed some grit..

I didn’t know what to expect but I found it to be an amazing circus of celebrities, best-selling authors and big-shot publishers putting on a show.  Everyone wanted attention for their new and upcoming books.  

Back then indie stores and chain stores would heavily attend the show to meet with publishers and get discounts on bulk orders.  Librarians also came in droves.  The media, with cameras, looked to capture glimpses of publishing royalty.  No Internet.  No social media. No Amazon. Just old school printed books from legit publishers – no self-published authors.  It’s a bygone era.

Those early BEAs saw crowds increase year to year. I recall one year in Chicago drew over 40,000.  The show now is about a fourth or fifth of its former self, both in number of attendees and exhibitors.

The show today doesn’t really reflect the health of the book industry.  More indie stores are opening each year.  Book sales are up.  Print books made a comeback and dominate still.  But when you go to the show, you don’t feel like it reflects the health of the industry at present.  Hybrid publishers, Amazon, ebook companies, and others had little or no presence.  They don’t think it’s worth their time and money.  To exhibit is wildly costly – plus the travel, book shipments, and related promotions could really make BEA an expensive proposition for many.

The year 2000 BEA will always be my favorite.  In Chicago, the first of the new millennium BEAs, was a lot of fun.  I remember going to parties and seeing the sights, including a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and Lucy the Dinosaur at the science museum.  It was also where I met my wife.  We’ll be married 17years this August.  It was great, to fall in love with books – and then to fall in love with a book person.

I recall a few BEAs in LA and I think a return to Vegas, but the majority have been in New York City, home of the publishing industry and the nation’s media capital.

Some BEAs of the past had people walking around in costumes, from Playboy bunnies to popular book characters.  There were a lot more premiums handed out, and so many parties.  The book world was not Hollywood, but BEA could actually be a time of extravagance and hoopla for what’s normally a reserved group of people.

When you go to BEA you might have an agenda. Literary agents hope to place authors with publishers or sell foreign rights.  Publishers hope to sell books to stores and libraries – and get advance media coverage.  Authors hope to connect with the right people to advance their careers.  Book publicists of publishers seek out media coverage and independent stores hope to stumble upon great books at bit discounts.  But regardless of one’s goals, BEA gives us a sense of community and a greater love of books.

It’s one of the few public places of such a large scale, where bibliophiles can gather, where all that you hear in conversation is something regarding books.  Like a huge library or chain bookstore, BEA provides a safe environment for people who treasure the written word to come together.  What a wonderful feeling it is to be surrounded by books and the people who write, edit, publish, promote, sell, and read them.

BEA or ABA has been going on for a long time, dating back to the 1940s.  I don’t know what it’s future is, but I do know I hope there will always be a place for book lovers and those responsible for books to gather and connect.  The event is something you can’t duplicate online or elsewhere.  It is really unique and special.


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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