Lots of authors, lots of politics, lots of attempts at luring more booksellers--these characterised BookExpo 2018, held in New York last week.
Former secretary of state John Kerry, who lost out in the race for the presidency in 2004, promoted his June memoir Every Day is Extra (S&S). "I'm deeply, deeply, deeply concerned, but we've been through difficulties before," he told a large crowd, referring to the current US political situation. "We need to have confidence in the country, but that doesn't come by being a bystander"
Senator Bernie Sanders gave a campaign speech to another large crowd, drawn from Where We Go from Here (St Martin's, October), about carrying his "revolution" forward. Sanders emphasised the need for "grassroots activism" Among the apparent injustices he raised: "Jeff Bezos sees his wealth increase by $275m every day, but pays thousands of workers wages so low [that] they're on food stamps"
Sean Spicer, former press secretary in President Trump's White House, and author of The Briefing (Regnery, July), presented himself as a regular family guy with "deep Catholic faith" in a Q&A with his publisher. He did not address how that can be reconciled with the fact that, while his salary was being paid by the citizens of the United States, he--as widely reported--chose to lie to them egregiously. Nor did the name "Trump" pass his lips.
"The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah (The Donald J Trump Presidential Twitter Library, Spiegel & Grau, July) had no difficulty evoking that name at an author breakfast. Comparing the Trump presidency to waiting for "a penis-shaped asteroid" to hit earth, he proclaimed that we'd all "die laughing"
Turning from politics to the American Booksellers Association annual meeting and its lively town hall, executive director Oren Teicher announced big news: the UK Booksellers Association's online invoice system Batch is at last coming to the US, launching in January. Ultimate success will depend, of course, on convincing vendors to participate expeditiously.
Teicher noted that for the eighth year in a row, the ABA has seen growth, with 1,835 member companies (a 4.5% increase) in 2,470 locations (a 6% increase). Sales increased 2.6% in 2017, and are up 5% in 2018.
The "biggest challenge" remains Amazon. An ABA-funded study by consultancy Civic Economics, released in April, shows Amazon's responsibility for an alarming loss of jobs and community resources, said Teicher; a major factor is the explosive growth in its third-party Marketplace merchants, who often don't pay local and state sales taxes.
Town hall discussion ranged from creating a mechanism to facilitate loan funds to address the "tough problem" of finding capital; to ways to keep career booksellers in the industry, and find a career progression forward; to the need to improve indie messaging and branding--one young bookseller said that's a job for Millennials: "If Parkland students [the gun control activists from Parkland, Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School] can do it, we can, too"
A copyright panel featuring Association of American Publishers (AAP) president and former register of copyrights Maria Pallante, Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger, and Copyright Alliance c.e.o. Keith Kupferschmid brought surprising news, when the latter asserted:
"The Obama administration, enamoured of Silicon Valley, was not kind to copyright, and brought many Google lobbyists into the government. We're in wait-and-see mode with the Trump administration, but instead of staff [loyal to] Google, we see more of a level playing field--and improvement" Pallante and Rasenberger agreed.
Rasenberger also focused on problems authors face: Amazon "strong-arming publishers, online piracy, the expansion of fair use". Authors "are not doing OK; earnings are way down, mean income declined 30% from 2009-15." The guild is soon to roll out a new survey, so watch this space.
What will happen to BookExpo is something else to watch. The show had become less relevant to booksellers each passing year --as the Winter Institute run by the ABA grew, BookExpo shrank. Reed worked hard to "reimagine" the fair, and "a ton of bookseller programming" was added, said ABA president Robert Sindelar. It included offsite visits to houses, and "editors' and publicists' hours" on the exhibition floor.
ABA board member Chris Morrow noted these were doubly educational: booksellers heard about new titles, while publishers heard what they don't hear enough: perspectives of frontline booksellers, especially outside New York. The ABA, responding to the programming, encouraged greater participation; Teicher said 35 more stores, and 150 more booksellers, attended this year.
Attendees were less happy with Reed's "reimagined" solution to smaller houses' complaints about getting their money's worth when the hall was open to the trade for just two days, because of the two consumer-facing days (BookCon) that now follow BookExpo. This year, a small part of the floor--only stands of publishers not segueing into BookCon--opened to the trade a day early. Some, like Phaidon, drew enough visitors to make that day worthwhile; other publishers voiced disappointment. Many visitors were confused. And even when the whole floor was open on Thursday (31st May) and Friday (1st June), it was noticeably smaller. Again.
Most telling of all, perhaps, was the absence of the biggest author of the season: Michelle Obama. She has chosen to begin her push for Becoming (Crown) by speaking to the American Library Association later this month.
Caption: Democrat John Kerry interviewed at the fair; inset Bernie Sanders addressing attendees