BEA 2010: Chaotic, Hopeful, and Worthwhile

Babette RossBy Babette Ross, former Associate Director of Sales Administration, Random House

“We need to be sure books don’t become a commodity.”

Oren Teicher, CEO, American Booksellers Association

“It would be terrible if the booksellers ran out from this event and said ‘this is it, it’s over.'”

David Shanks, CEO, Penguin Group USA

I walked into last week’s Book Expo America excited about seeing old friends, meeting new friends and looking for new opportunities, and on these points the show was a complete success for me.

On Tuesday morning, I attended the “Opening Plenary: A CEO Panel On The Value Of The Book Presented by ABA and BEA,” and I’m not sure what I expected, but I spent a lot of time visualizing some of the panelists as Statler and Waldorf, the curmudgeonly Muppets. Author Scott Turrow, the incoming President of The Author’s Guild, may not have actually said “get off my lawn,” but that’s what it sounded like to me.

There are many complex and serious issues publishers have to tackle as the digital book world gains market share, so I was hoping to hear fresh ideas as to how we as an industry could continue to run parallel businesses, both traditional and digital. Unfortunately, trotting out the same tired lines about piracy, windowing and pricing did not help shine a light on the path into the future,  nor did it set the right tone for the rest of the conference.

Of course, the panel wasn’t all a disappointment. My favorite positive comment came from Penguin’s CEO, David Shanks, and I’ll have to paraphrase him, but in discussing pricing he suggested that to compensate for the lower prices of eBooks we’ll need to sell more books and went on to talk about embracing any mechanism that brings books to more people.

More people reading more books in the manner of their choosing? Yes, please!

Esther Newberg, EVP, International Creative Management, noted that “word of mouth still means something.” In my humble opinion, word of mouth is everything. Not addressed by this particular panel was that how word of mouth has dramatically shifted from booksellers to readers. Putting aside the notion of electronically receiving a galley via NetGalley, I’m sure I’m not alone when I head over to GetGlue or GoodReads, and reach out to my friends on Facebook or Twitter. (I live in a town without a good bookstore, which is increasingly more common.)

Book Expo AmericaSpeaking of word of mouth, Verso Digital’s Jack McKeown presented updated results from their “2010 Survey of Book-Buying Behavior,” and found that 45% of those surveyed were willing to give their email address to bookstores for relevant marketing. Indie booksellers should be jumping on this opportunity!

The “Designing and Executing an e-Strategy for Authors: A Publisher and Agency Perspective” panel offered one of the most important takeaways that is applicable to booksellers and publishers, too: Social Media, like all marketing endeavors, requires a strategy. You can not simply put up a Facebook Page and hope they will come; you need to develop and cultivate an audience, and treat them with the same respect you would treat a live audience: listen, engage and provide value or entertainment. Do NOT repeatedly hawk your wares!

Also, different platforms are, in fact, different. If you would dress differently for a backyard swim party than you would a fancy ball, please get to know each platform before you jump in. Tailor your message to appropriately fit each platform.

During the “Rights, Royalties & Retailers: What Works?” panel, Cursor founder Richard Nash declared, “The age of abundance makes copyright irrelevant. Owning a well really meant something before bottled water. A right is useless if there is no demand for it.”

He presented his proposed new model which will feature 3-year contracts, and expressed confidence that they would be renewed as long as the publisher is holding up their end of the bargain. “That doesn’t mean after three years, you lose your author,” he noted; “you renegotiate.”

Scott Waxman, a literary agent, is taking a similar approach with his own experimental start-up, Diversion Books, where he is offering 5-year contracts on a profit-sharing model, and securing world rights. He’s already signed 20 authors, “with 30 more in the hopper.”

Nash and Waxman’s new initiatives are ones to watch as they become a reality in the coming months; it will be exciting to see how they evolve and hopefully invigorate the publishing industry.

Out on the exhibition floor, while noticeably smaller and leaner than past years, I am glad to report it was still a challenge to make your way through it all! I was also impressed by the “IDPF’s Digital Zone” where several tech companies were showing off their shiny toys and some pretty neat technology in the crossroads between content creators and readers. In particular, I spent time at Firebrand Technology‘s booth – which hosted both Digital Book World’s Roundtable WEBcast and Laura Dawson’s #ISBNhour Twitter chat – as well as checking out Kobo and iScroll.

A particularly fun highlight for me, having nothing to do with the open bar, was the 7x20x21 event put together by Ryan Chapman and Ami Greko. I especially enjoyed the presentations by Clay Shirky and Nick Bilton, and since I believe they will be posted online soon, I encourage you to check them out for yourself.

It was also fun to see/meet my Twitterstream In Real Life, and that, on top of everything else, that made it a great event.

The overall mood at BEA 2010 was probably best summed up by one John Hanlon, from “N/A,” labeled as such because he was not yet a bookseller, though he is looking to open up a new indie bookstore in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was his first time attending BEA, and he found the panels informative, the crowd flow a bit chaotic, and he left feeling hopeful about the future.

I did, too.

Babette Ross is a publishing industry professional who enjoyed a long career at Random House, including her last position as the Associate Director of Sales Administration. She collaborated with 44 imprint marketing departments, liaised with the IT department, and created and maintained databases which facilitated inventory, fulfillment and tracking of sales materials. She is currently looking for a new job and is excited by all the possibilities the digital world is bringing to publishing and marketing.

One thought on “BEA 2010: Chaotic, Hopeful, and Worthwhile

  1. Debbie Stier

    Great wrap up Babette. Thanks. You highlighted something that I am blown away by nearly every day……which is “Word of Mouth.” I am amazed, on nearly an every day basis, that our industry doesn’t seem to realize that social media IS word of mouth and that it’s the most valuable marketing tool we have, and should be treated as such. Instead, it seems like some “extra” that’s nice to have when you can — but no one’s willing to spend money (i.e. time) to ENSURE that it’s THE major part of the campaign of EVERY book.

    Don’t get me going though….it’s Friday. I’m logging off now and going to read some paper periodicals 🙂

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