NEW YORK – The annual publishing convention and trade show known as BookExpoa decades-old tradition where guest speakers have ranged from Bill Clinton to Margaret Atwood, may be coming to an end.
ReedPop, which has run BookExpo for a quarter of a century, announced on Tuesday that it was effectively “retiring” the event immediately, along with fan-based BookCon and merchandise-based UnBound. Any future for the convention depends on the wishes of the book community. As in other industries, publishers have debated the need for BookExpo as much of the business that once took place there has shifted online.
BookExpo used to shoot all over the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Washington, DC, but has been held almost exclusively in recent years at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. New York publishers sought to cut costs, including drastically reducing the space they purchased on the convention floor.
Earlier this year, BookExpo and BookCon were held virtually because of the coronavirus. The status of next year’s show was already uncertain.
“The pandemic has come at a time in BookExpo and BookCon’s lifecycle when we were already looking at restructuring our events to better meet the needs of our community,” Reed’s Director of Events Jennifer Martin said in a statement. .
“This has led us to make the difficult decision to retire the events in their current formats as we take the time needed to assess how best to move forward and rebuild our events that will better serve the industry and reach more people than we were. able before. We remain committed to serving the book community and look forward to sharing more information in the future.
Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle, who hailed BookExpo as a chance for the industry to come together under one roof, said in a statement that he hopes such occasions will happen again.
“Among the many traditions that we missed so much this year was an industry event that brings together booksellers, authors and publishers,” he said. “In this virtual world, Penguin Random House is constantly investing in innovative ways to connect members of our community with each other, and we look forward to working with our industry partners to explore a newly imagined event where we can all of us come together to celebrate books and their essential role in our society and culture.
Booksellers have met annually since the turn of the 20th century, although the modern convention dates back to 1947 and the founding of the American Booksellers Association Convention and Trade Show. The ABA, the independent owners’ trade group, served as host until the mid-1990s, when tensions with supermarket chain Barnes & Noble and some publishers led to legal action and the sale by the association of the show with Reed.
Usually held in late spring, BookExpo was once a favorite place for upcoming books to “come out”, and for publishers to place orders with booksellers and bring in top authors to meet with store managers, agents , librarians and journalists.
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At a given convention, a podium may be shared by Atwood, William Styron and Margaret Thatcher, or by Bill Murray and Julia Child. At a luncheon in Washington in 2006, speakers included Amy Sedaris and John Updike, whose elegy for all Manhattan bookstores now closed so moved the audience that few remembered what was said by the third featured author, first-term Illinois Senator Barack Obama. .
But in recent years, guest writers lacked the star power of previous guests, and attendance dropped to the point where significant parts of Javits’ center floor were empty.
In 2018, when Michelle Obama was looking to promote the fall release of her memoir “Becoming,” she didn’t come to BookExpo, but instead addressed the American Library Association convention. And this year has highlighted doubts about whether an in-person gathering boosts sales: The market has held steady despite the pandemic and the convention being held online.
Meanwhile, other industry meetings continue, including regional trade shows and the increasingly popular Winter Institute run by the American Booksellers Association. The Winter Institute will be held virtually in February 2021.
“BookExpo’s retirement feels like the end of an era,” ABA CEO Allison K. Hill told the AP, adding that the need for booksellers to come together is stronger than ever. “ABA is exploring new ways to bring booksellers, publishers and authors together in the future. For now, we will continue to bring everyone together virtually.
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