11 August 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

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 . . .

5 August 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Today’s Publishing Perspectives (which everyone in the universe should subscribe to), has a great piece by Lance Fensterman, the man behind BookExpo America, the New York Comic Con, the New York Anime Fest, and the soon-to-be-launched Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. The interaction (or lack thereof) between publishers and readers is a long-running hobbyhorse of mine, so this bit is of particular interest to me:

But for all this nuance, what is the real distinction between all these shows? Since I work so closely with both the business to business model and the con (or consumer/public) model, my observation is that the cons (I use this term generically to define SDCC, NYCC, C2E2) drive media coverage, are epicenters of energy, and allow an incredibly porous connection between creator and consumer. Trade events (exclusively business to business environments) lack this porous connection between creator and consumer. The con model is based on an outside-in style of connection and promotion; the creators are there to hear from the consumers, to influence the consumers, and to interact with the consumers. The model at trade events such as BEA is much more inside-out. Publishers are there to influence emissaries or tastemakers who are then expected to take the message to the book buying public based on what they saw and who they met.

The notable increase of bloggers at BEA and the quality and quantity of information that is conveyed through the Internet is certainly changing the paradigm at BEA as the “public” is becoming increasingly involved through a Web based universe. But this introduction of a public component is a long way from what we see at SDCC or NYCC. I am not suggesting that there is a perfect model for any single event. Different shows serve different purposes. But just as NYCC needs to think about building a better business to business environment to set it apart, so too does BEA need to think about creating more direct communication with the public. We live in a world where everyone feels empowered to have a “say” and to wield some influence. Since this is the case, I think it is appropriate for both NYCC and BEA to ask the question: just who is an industry insider anymore?


28 April 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [3]

That was the name of the panel that I moderated at this year’s London Book Fair, and which featured Abby Blachly of LibraryThing, Lance Fensterman of Reed Exhibitions (in particular, BookExpo America and New York Comic Con), Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book, and Mark Thwaite of ReadySteadyBook.com, the Book Depository, and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

By design, this panel was more about new methods and ideas about marketing, and about the evolving relationship between publishers and their readers, rather than about how to market a particular book. That said, a lot of the discussion—and the particular ideas presented—centered around more “niche” books and how to find a particular audience for these sorts of books via the internet, LibraryThing, etc.

Rather than recap the whole event (not that my memory of what happened last Monday is all that clear anyway), here are a few of the bigger points that came out of this:

  • Mark Thwaite emphasized the importance of publishers having a good website. Not one that’s a confusing mess like this. Or this. This seems super obvious, but the most successful publisher sites are clear, easy to navigate, have individual pages for each book (so that bloggers can link to them, right HMH?), and provide additional content about books and authors.
  • If you’re going to include a blog, publishers should keep a few things in mind: 1) you have to keep blogging on a regular basis, rather than just putting up a couple posts and forgetting about it; 2) linking to other blogs and having other blogs link to you, which ties into the even more crucial point 3) which is to not treat a blog like a place to make hard-sells. All of this can be summed up by thinking of a blog as part of a ongoing conversation—not a place for a publisher to make repeated hard sells.
  • Which was a sentiment echoed by Abby about publishers on LibraryThing. Publishers frequently open accounts on LT, add all of their own books to their library, and then give each one 5 stars. Not effective at all. Everyone can smell a self-promoter, and this sort of thing turns real participants off. That said, editors who have their personal libraries on LT and legitimately participate in conversations, forums, etc., are welcomed into the community, and end up naturally sharing information about their publishing house and its books. Readers outside of the industry think publishing is sexy and love to meet editors—just not editors who begin messages with: “Hi, it was great meeting you the other day. I have a new book I think you would like to purchase.” Read Buying In by Rob Walker for more info on this sort of “marketing.” It really is the new paradigm and anyone trying to use social networks for hard sells is going to run into problems.
  • The Early Reviewers program is f’ing effective at putting books into the hands of the right reader. LT uses a complicated algorithm to match books with people who might be interested in that particular title. For instance, if a publisher is offering up free copies of a book on the Berlin Wall, someone who only have romance titles in their library won’t win the drawing.
  • Although he considered it a bit of a failure (the women participating weren’t keen on the book), Bob Stein’s Golden Notebook Project did lead to some interesting findings. The Institute knew this going in, but one thing that I found really interesting is the finding that by putting the “comments” section right next to the post/original text (in contrast to putting comments at the bottom of the page, like below . . .) readers are much more likely to respond and the conversation develops rather quickly. Very curious how the physical layout so greatly impacts the overall conversation and experience.
  • Lance already wrote a long post about this, but in his opinion, trade shows are dead. He doesn’t mean that the LBF and BEA are about to vanish, but that the very idea of what constitutes “trade” needs to shift. Things are in a bad way when a book critic who writes a dozen reviews a year is allowed to attend the industry’s one and only trade show, but the top reviewer on Amazon, who writes more than 100 reviews a year, isn’t allowed access. The boundary between “trade” and “non-trade” is very blurry these days, and rather than try and restrict access to BookExpo, Lance believes (and I second this wholeheartedly) that the show needs to be opened up to include the enthusiasts who can be as effective in promoting literature as a traditional critic. For the publishing industry to really thrive, we need both of these groups coming to BEA and getting excited about future offerings. Forward-thinking publishers who realize that a passionate reader is your greatest ally no matter where she/he works already know this—it’s just the stodgy corporations who are strangling the show’s potential.

Overall, this was one of the best London Book Fair panels I’ve ever been on. Great presentations and wonderful questions from the audience. And hopefully we came up with some interesting ideas that are of some benefit to publishers large and small.

Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .

Read More >

We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

Read More >

The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

Read More >

French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

Read More >

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >