It has been suggested by more than a few parties that my BookExpo coverage betrays a sourpuss disposition. It has also been insinuated that I was predisposed to find negativity within this three-ring exposition. Not at all.
Here are some positive observations: The fine folks at Firebrand managed to set up a booth at BEA that proved to be a popular destination point for any number of quirky literary types. The many perspectives that will emerge from the fairly open press credentials policy will certainly assist Reed Exhibitions (and others) in determining BEA’s future. There are a number of passionate people who still believe in books — perhaps epitomized best by the emerging consultant/communal evangelist Richard Nash, who has hit upon the very sensible idea that writers are also readers — and who are making slow but steady progress in getting others to understand present developments. 7x20x21 suggested that there was no shortage of young energy willing to take on the troubling problems of the future. If the interest and presence from the big publishers were reduced, there remained many small presses and university presses who saw a consistent level of foot traffic comparable to previous years. (I didn’t quite find the crazy guy hawking his self-published book in a rented booth, much less the guy with the toilet seat around his head who had showed up at previous BEAs. But there did seem to be a larger makeup of aspiring authors cropping up at panels.) If Penguin wasn’t exactly promoting Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice at BEA (as Kirk Biglione wisely observed) and China Mieville remains one of those names that people get excited about on the floor but that Del Rey seemed strangely diffident in pushing, there remain numerous advocates under the radar. The book bloggers panel, which seemed to me a strange repeat of the 2004 litblog panels, attracted a fairly packed house. The wheel may be reinventing itself, but the one-two shuffles haven’t stopped and the enthusiasm hasn’t permanently quelled. And for all of my complaints about the Book Reviews 2010 panel, there was nevertheless a healthy swarm of spectators. People may not understand the present forms, but they certainly want to. It’s just a question of how much they are willing to adjust their thinking. And it’s also a question of whether the publishing industry wishes to latch onto the unhelpful panacea of Chris Anderson-style generalizations.
My suspicions about BEA have more to do with whether this massive conference is presently in the right form with which to bring together these many viewpoints. Perhaps the manner in which we unite publishers, booksellers, authors, and assorted parties needs to match the drastic manner in which the industry is changing. The digital enthusiasts need to understand the perspective of a 60-year-old publisher who will never use a Kindle. And the frightened publisher needs to comprehend why readers aren’t jumping up and down about DRM. It has become vitally important for us to listen to the opposite perspective. We can’t just keep to the comfortable corners of the room.