Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I've been remiss in posting much about BEA. Mostly cause I was in shock. Real honest to Helvetica shock. I walked around looking like a witless tourist most of the time: slack-jawed, aghast and stumbling.
I've been going to BEA a LONG time. Back in the day the entire show fit comfortably in an average size convention hall. Somewhere in the 90's it started getting bigger. Gradually of course, but pretty soon the show could only run in a Javits-sized center and that meant it had to be in one of the big cities like New York, Chicago or LA.
That kind of growth seemed natural. I liked to kvetch about the strange people who suddenly found they needed to come to BEA (the toilet seat on his head guy is the most famous of that ilk) but there were a myriad of others.
This year it was though someone dropped a bomb on 1/3 of the exhibit hall and it disappeared.
Yes, I knew there was a recession on.
Yes, I knew publishers were watching their pennies.
No, I didn't make the logical leap to "less" at BEA.
I was just plain shocked at the diminished size.
There's really no way to illustrate it; you had to be there.
And because I was there, it shook me up. I've had one of my best selling years EVER in 2009 (knock on wood) so seeing BEA downsized really rattled me.
Only in the cold clear light of sobriety and perspective could I regain my senses. BEA was less and less about writing orders (the original intent of the show) and more about presence and visibility. There are a lot more ways to be visible now than a VERY expensive, temporary, exhibit space. The money spent on buying a booth at BEA can buy a whole lot of web marketing.
BEA is changing; this was the first year the changes were so dramatically visible. There will be more. It will be interesting to see if the big publishers pull out entirely and smaller publishers continue to attend (Fred Ramey at Unbridled Books tweeted that he didn't write enough orders to cover the cost of the booth which is an early indicator that small publishers might not stay either.)
I've spent a lot of time this year saying publishing is not dying on the vine; there will always be a market for good storytellers, and storytellers need people to do the business side of their work.
Time for me to take some of my own damn advice and snap out of it!