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BEA + The Public?

From Publishers Weekly:

Adding a public component to BookExpo America has been one of the most hotly debated topics regarding possible changes to the annual event. BEA officials have discussed it internally and with their customers, and the concept has now received a major boost from Penguin, whose CEO, David Shanks, and president, Susan Petersen Kennedy, have outlined what they see as a viable way to bring book lovers into the event without having them at the Javits Center. The executives made the proposal in response to queries from PW to publishers and booksellers about how BEA can be improved.

I’ve argued in the past that book lovers should just be allowed into Javits, but whatever, at least this is a push in the right direction . . . maybe. Nothing too specific in the article, but here’s the core of the idea:

As envisioned by Shanks and Kennedy, the new component could be modeled after the annual PEN World Voices Festival and New Yorker Book Festival, which hold a series of author events and panels at different locations all over the city. Ideally, the cost of the tickets would cover the overhead for the venues, and events would be scheduled in the evening and not conflict with BEA programming and exhibits. All BEA badge holders could attend these events for free.

Creating off-site public events, Shanks and Kennedy said, “would further expand the opportunities and exposure for the BEA, authors and their books.” The addition of these events, the two said, “would ultimately help generate advance buzz for the overall convention as well as for the authors and their books—not only in the media and among booksellers but among consumers, who would get a sneak peek at a few select major fall authors.” At the off-site events, publishers could do consumer giveaways, as they do at other book fairs across the country.

OK, so that sounds decent. Although coming exactly one month after the PEN World Voices Festival, it might be a tough sell. My real concern though is that this will be totally corporate and, similar to the extremely popular Winter Institute, a pay-to-play situation in which only the biggest of the biggest can actually participate.

That would be extremely disappointing. Hell, we already can see Malcolm Gladwell nine thousand times a year, and trying to rope the general public into paying to see the “Big Names” is an idea that operates under the deteriorating blockbuster model, trying to prop up some new hits instead of offering readers an opportunity to explore all the diverse voices being published today. For that, they’d have to visit the Javitz Center . . . Oh, wait.

It really is a positive development that people are thinking in this way, and I applaud Penguin for making this proposal. I guess it’s the cynic in me that envisions this as a potentially good compromise that turns into something that I would never want to attend if I wasn’t part of the industry. But for now, I’ll hope for the best . . . The best being that some smaller publishers can also have their authors participate in this without having to fork over thousands . . . Maybe Lance can chime in in the comments and reassure me . . .



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