The Well-Traveled Book

Both the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair play important roles in book publishing and marketing beyond the obvious opportunities for selling foreign rights. Click here for the London Book Fair website. Click here for the Frankfurt Book Fair website. This page at the London Book Fair site provides links to other book fairs around the World.

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Feature

Got Them Ol’ BEA Blues

A Conversation with Publisher & Distributor Eric Kampmann
When it comes to BookExpo America (BEA), all everybody ever does is bitch, bitch, bitch. So, one week after attending this year’s publishing gathering, I called Eric Kampmann, so we could do the post mortem, and bitch, bitch, bitch.

As the President of Midpoint Trade Books, a distribution company; the President of Beaufort Books, an independent publishing house; and a former sales executive with a major house, Kampmann has decades in the industry, as well as a diverse set of experiences.

To make it interesting, we’ve been known to strongly disagree about nearly everything in the industry, which has always made for lively conversation. Much to my surprise, though, this time we saw eye-to-eye on almost everything.

We differed on one key point. And it’s a doozy.

IP: What did you think of BEA this year?

EK: To me, BEA this year represented two universes existing simultaneously. On the positive level, it was the most well-organized show we’ve ever participated in. And speaking for Midpoint, our booth had a wonderful floor position between HarperCollins and Baker & Taylor, and that had a spillover effect. People came in who’d never heard of us, and a lot of good came from that. On the negative level, almost every publisher and distributor attending the show, whether they admit it or not, is dealing with a diminished market. It has nothing to do with what is being published and everything to do with an economy in which the consumer has gone into semi-hibernation.

I believe that almost all of the companies in this business are doing everything they can to adjust to the new reality. The truth is, over the next two years or so, the managers are going to earn their pay. The new realism has entered our world and, speaking just for Midpoint, we’re doing everything in our power to sell our publishers’ books, more than we ever have in the past.

As a former sales executive, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, and I do feel optimistic that all of the companies will emerge stronger for having adjusted and lived through this period of diminished sales opportunities. It’s a tale of two worlds: it’s both the best of times and the worst of times, and we have to keep both in view if we are to prevail.

What’s your biggest complaint about BEA?

The only complaint I have will be rectified next year. BEA is a two-day event that’s been stretched into three days. BEA on Sunday has always had very little traffic. The BEA folks have rectified that by next year having BEA for a full two days in the middle of the week. I think that will work quite well.

No, it won’t. It’s a terrible idea. If they want it to just be two days, then let those days be Friday and Saturday, and not have it open on Sunday. Sunday can be the day everyone tears down their booths. But, by having BEA in the middle of the week, they’re effectively killing it because it becomes prohibitively expensive for anyone from out-of-town to attend. Affordable airline tickets require a Saturday night stay. The round-trip ticket that you get for a weekend costs hundreds. The round-trip ticket for the middle of the week will cost well over a thousand dollars. The airfare cost will be anywhere from three to ten times as much if you’re flying there and back in the middle of the week. I think this is the first step to killing BEA. When nobody shows up next year, they can say, “Well, I guess nobody wants to come to BEA anymore.” And that will be the death of it. There will be no BEA the following year.

Well, someone else will invent a new one. We can’t go without an industry event. Even now, it’s too expensive, even on the weekend, for everyone involved.

What should BEA or a replacement industry event be like?

My favorite show is the London Book Fair. It’s in the spring, and from a publishers point of view it’s an excellent time because a publisher can put in a last minute book for the fall. Having BEA in June was originally designed in order to introduce the fall list. But BEA should be moved to a date later in June so we can stop this mythology that this still has something to do with the fall list.

It used to be the most efficient way to introduce the fall books, but that reality changed drastically years ago. Nobody needs BEA to introduce the fall list anymore. BEA is now a multi-purpose event that can be so many different things to so many different people. Each person, each company can very effectively tailor it to meet their individual needs.

Just like London, the BEA should be business-oriented. It shouldn’t be a carnival. We should have meetings in booths and do business the way it’s done in London and Frankfurt. It would be a radical change for BEA, but an appropriate one. We shouldn’t imitate the London Book Fair, but there’s a lot to learn from it.

What do you think is the best thing about BEA?

The best thing about BEA is authors meeting publishers, booksellers, and others to sign books, and it’s an excellent networking show. But it needs to be redefined because it hasn’t established its full new identity, and its old identity, as the primary way of introducing the fall books to booksellers, doesn’t exist anymore.

I knew BEA was in trouble because there were almost no buttons this year. I want my funny buttons. It was a great year for tote bags, though. With this economy, I would’ve thought that they’d forgo the bags and ramp up the buttons, which are so much cheaper. Seriously, sum up our little bitch session.

My conclusion from this year’s show is that it confirms the truth we’re all living now. We’re in a period of enormous transition. Nobody knows where events are taking us. The world we’ll be working in five years from now will have very different contours to it than the ones that exist today. In all likelihood, BEA will reflect those changes. It will make the necessary modifications to make the event more productive to all who participate in it. I remain optimistic that all of the changes in the industry won’t bring about the death of the book. Rather, they’ll open doors to reach more markets. Whatever happens in the future, the best publishers will be flexible enough to adapt to it.

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Nina L. Diamond is a journalist, essayist, and the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Omni, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.

Ms. Diamond was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, for its entire run in Miami and select markets nationwide from 1984-1998. As an editor, she works frequently with other authors and journalists on both fiction and non-fiction


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