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Trade show 2008: Day One

The BookExpo Canada trade show kicked off on Sunday with the usual glimmer of promise: a long line of attendees at the foot of the escalators, awaiting the (metaphorical) opening bell. Once those attendees got upstairs, though, they must surely have been struck by how … compact it all was.

The actual floor space devoted to the show is the smallest it’s been in years; publishers like HarperCollins Canada and Douglas & McIntyre were once nestled within the heart of the show floor, but are now close to its edge. And several individual exhibitors “including Simon & Schuster Canada, the Literary Press Group, and Random House of Canada “ have noticably, sometimes dramatically, reduced their booth size since last year.

The closer confines no doubt contributed to a more crowded feeling in the show’s first couple hours (as did high temperatures within the Metro Toronto Convention Centre). As the day wore on, though, impressions were decidedly mixed. Many bemoaned the scant, bookseller-light crowds, and the general feeling seemed to be that the show was flat. Some, though, professed to be pleased enough with BookExpo’s energy, making the best of the chance to connect with frontline Indigo employees, some teachers and librarians, and a few indie stalwarts, among them Bryan Prince, A Different Drummer’s Richard Bachmann, and contingents from McNally Robinson Booksellers and Book City.

One effect of this year’s contraction has been to highlight more than ever the difference a free-food offering or author signing makes. Authors like Louise Penny (McArthur & Company), Elizabeth Hay (McClelland & Stewart), Rawi Hage (House of Anansi Press), Lawrence Hill (HarperCollins Canada), and Harlan Coben (Penguin Canada), drew huge lines, while lesser-known authors drew crowds, too. But that left many publishers struggling to generate in-booth activity between signings, especially since most of them now seem to be more … selective than ever when handing out advance galleys. (Even tchotchkes were in shorter supply this year, though that’s clearly a sensible trend.)

Traditionally, first-day BookExpo crowds are larger, so some awaited the Monday installment with trepidation. Also set for Monday was a meeting between exhibitors and show management to discuss the future of BookExpo “ a subject everyone in attendance will undoubtedly have an opinion on.