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Speculation on the Future of BookExpo

by Dan Smith

Smith Publicity has exhibited at BookExpo America (now called BookExpo) for 15 consecutive  years, and the event has gone through many changes in recent years. As the most important publishing industry event in the U.S., all of the changes have affected the publishers, agents, numerous industry vendors, authors and others who attend. For many, the event can be an important element of book marketing plans and a good venue to launch a bestselling book publicity campaign and offer Advance Review Copies. Even for non-print books, BookExpo is a powerful ebook promotion services venue.

Here are just some of the changes.

  • BookExpo used to rotate locations; for years it was New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington DC. A few years back, it was supposed to be in Las Vegas, but that plan was scrapped and it was announced the show would permanently be in New York. But, that plan changed as well, when the show went back to Chicago in 2016. For the last two years, it’s been back in New York.
  • BookExpo for many years was three full days. Several years ago it was reduced to two and one-half days, and then subsequently reduced to two days.
  • While Reed, the company that manages BookExpo, offers statistics in a number of ways, here’s some insights on attendance from various years:

- In 2009, there were 12,000 non-exhibitor attendees

- 2010, 14,000.

- 2015-21,000

- 2016 -9,600

- 2017 – 7,500

- 2018 – 7,700

  • For the first time, in 2018 a foreign rights fair – the New York Rights Fair, was simultaneously held at a completely different location.
  • In 2014, BookCon, a fan convention, was added, and attendance has grown each year, with over 20,000 in 2018.

After decades of stability (the event was held in Washington, D.C. as the American Booksellers Association Convention and Trade Showfrom 1947 until 1971) BookExpo has dramatically changed, with many industry professionals speculating on its future. To many, BookExpo is struggling to figure out its own identity; should it be more bookstore and retail oriented, author-centric, publisher focused, etc.

After personally seeing the slow demise of BookExpo Canada (BEC)  - the last BEC was in 2008 – I worry about BookExpo. For three consecutive years, I witnessed BEC attendance dwindle, and in 2008, the lack of excitement and buzz was tangible. BookExpo 2018 was certainly still a vibrant event, but with the number of exhibitors shrinking each year (several large publishers did not exhibit in) and attendance nowhere near what it used to be, you have to wonder.

If BookExpo does close in the future, many authors will lose an important promotional tool, as well as an event that is a wonderful way to learn and understand the entire publishing industry

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