Our BookExpo Canada preview, from the June issue of Q&Q.
Tentative optimism seems to be the general mood going into BookExpo Canada this year. After some exhibitor grumbling last year about high costs and low returns associated with the annual trade show, Reed Exhibitions is adding BOOKED!, a consumer book festival running alongside the convention. Hopes are high that the move will reinvigorate BookExpo, but as of late April (Q&Q’s press time), few details about the consumer event had been made public, leaving some publishers anxious to solidify plans.
BOOKED will run from June 7 through 9 (the BookExpo trade show will follow on June 10 and 11), and is being overseen by Geoffrey Taylor, director of International Readings at Harbourfront. The festival will be made up of two dozen events, half of them free and the others ranging in ticket price from $10 to $25, in locations across Toronto. BookExpo attendees will have to pay just like everyone else. Taylor says the aim is to have the festival pay for itself through ticket sales, and he was planning to put out a call for volunteers in May. “The whole thing’s supposed to be revenue-neutral,” says Taylor. “There are people out trying to find corporate partners, but from a planning point of view we’re trying to make it pay for itself.”
As for the lineup, Taylor says exhibiting publishers put forth 250 author names, which a selection committee (made up of reps from publishing and bookselling associations, as well as Taylor and BookExpo event director Dahlia de Rushe) has narrowed to around 50 for the inaugural year. But while publishers have been informed which of their authors made the cut – the list reportedly includes Naomi Klein, Jeannette Walls, David Bezmozgis, and Michael Redhill – no one has yet seen a detailed program. “You’re sort of presenting your authors blind,” says Lindsey Lowy, marketing manager for HarperCollins Canada. “You don’t really know what they’re getting into…. It’s difficult to put forth your best authors.” Still, Lowy has Richard B. Wright, Barbara Haworth-Attard, Susan Juby, and Kenneth Oppel all attending BOOKED.
And Taylor now says some BOOKED events will spill over the June 7-9 parameters. For example, H.B. Fenn and Company is bringing author James Patterson to both BOOKED and BookExpo, as part of his first Canadian tour in many years. Patterson’s BOOKED event is to take place on June 10, the first day of the trade show, but publicity manager Janis Ackroyd says she still doesn’t have a specific time, and the delays are holding back Fenn’s plans for the trade show as well: “We want to have Patterson in our booth, but we can’t determine the time of his booth appearance until we know all the details for BOOKED, which throws off the whole schedule because other authors don’t know their time,” says Ackroyd.
Taylor, for his part, concedes that the BOOKED committee is behind on the original schedule, but not, he says, “dangerously behind.” One major event has been booked for the John Bassett Theatre, while a children’s program has been scheduled for Fort York on the Friday. Taylor says most paid events have locations lined up, with only the free events still unsecured. And as part of an agreement with Toronto’s Luminato arts festival, also in its first year and running over the first week of June, the two festivals will share a space in a Luminato tent for at least one event.
BOOKED aside, it also remains to be seen how this year’s BookExpo convention and trade show will shake out. Last year’s trade show actually saw a noticeable increase in attendance, with 6,013 people attending, up 33% from the previous year. Bookseller numbers also rebounded, with a 15% increase, as 2,517 booksellers attended the show. But that still came against a backdrop of publisher concerns about high costs and few on-site orders. For years, BookExpo has been more of a networking event than a sales-generating one, but last year there was a renewed questioning of the status quo.
And this year, some exhibitors are slightly shrinking their presence. Simon & Schuster Canada, Random House of Canada, and the Literary Press Group are all reducing the size of their booths. LPG executive director Ronda Kellington says their booth will still feature author events, with an emphasis on first-time authors, but she expects that even fewer publishers than the 22 from last year will be represented. Heidi Winter, vice-president of marketing at H.B. Fenn, says the firm is producing fewer displays for its booth. And Whitecap Books, a perennial best-booth winner, won’t have its own booth at all this year, but will be exhibiting within the booth of its North American distributor, Firefly Books. Vice-president Nick Rundall says Whitecap will still have authors at the booth and blow-ups of the covers, and that the changes are for the ease of the booksellers – “assuming there are any.”
Still, most publishers are both returning and sticking to their booth size. “I remember last year there was that hooha about, ‘Oh, we should cancel BookExpo,’” says McArthur & Company president Kim McArthur. “I was never of the opinion that we should cancel BookExpo Canada.… I really always thought that it was extremely important to retain our own Canadian trade show for our own booksellers and our own authors and own companies.”
BOOKED isn’t the only addition to this year’s fest – Reed has also developed a new program for the trade show floor to spotlight children’s books, in an effort to attract more teachers and librarians. “Our Choice Best Bets” will feature 20 children’s authors and illustrators; each will speak for five minutes about a topic of their choice related to their new title. The Canadian Children’s Book Centre organized the event, which will take place on the presentation stage on both days of the trade show. The artists taking part in the program represent a cross-section of genres and target ages and include author team Jane Drake and Ann Love (whose Sweet! is reviewed on page 47 of this issue), creative non-fiction writer Barbara Greenwood, and author/illustrator Veronika Martenova Charles. But the list is also heavily Ontario-based, with only six participants coming from other provinces, including B.C. author kc dyer, Monique Polak from Quebec, and Nova Scotian illustrator Susan Tooke.
Young adult author Don Aker, one writer on the bill, says the time he gets with the audience will be worth the expense of coming from Nova Scotia. (Aker is mostly covering his own travel expenses, though his publisher, HarperCollins Canada, is footing his hotel bill.) He says his decision to come is spurred by the great reception Ontario teachers and librarians have given him in the past; the Ontario department of education approved his novel First Stone years before Nova Scotia tagged the work for classroom use.
Another addition to the trade show is a mystery event organized by Bloody Words, the annual Canadian mystery-writing conference of the same name. In the same vein as Best Bets, mystery authors will give readings on the presentation stage over the two days of the trade show. Cheryl Freedman, an organizer of the Bloody Words conference, says the final number of authors appearing is still undecided, but there will be fewer than at the Best Bets presentation, to allow the writers more time to read; some authors expected to appear include Linwood Barclay, Lyn Hamilton, Louise Penny, and Mary Jane Maffini.
Susan Dayus, the Canadian Booksellers Association’s executive director, says the author breakfasts and lunches, for both adult and children’s authors, will continue this year, with four in total. At press time the CBA was still contemplating opening up Saturday’s adult fiction lunch – which features Elizabeth Hay, Frances Itani, and Richard B. Wright – to the public. (The full breakfast and lunch lineups appear on pages 30-31.)
As usual, the convention will kick off with two full days of professional development programming. Humber College and the Book and Periodical Council organized Friday’s publishing-focused lineup, “Devices and Desires,” while the CBA is running its annual “Super Saturday” programming for booksellers.
Friday’s lineup will address how new technology, especially the Internet, affects the publishing industry, and how publishers can reach online communities of readers. Cynthia Good, director of Humber’s Creative Book Publishing program, says the presentations and seminars look at how the future of book publishing can be seen now. “I believe that it’s no longer talking about a future – what will be the future of the book business and books and writing and bookselling and the whole book world,” says Good. “Everything is happening right now and we need to find a way to both learn and adjust creatively.”
The keynote speaker is Bob Young, founder of the print-on-demand website Lulu.com, who will argue that self-publishing is changing the publishing business. To balance Young’s viewpoint, former CBC Radio personality Mary Lou Finlay will be the responder, speaking for more traditional publishing models and touching on the issue of maintaining quality and standards. Attendees also have a choice of two workshops from a list of six that address new methods in marketing and promotion. Good says seminars are available both for the technologically savvy and for publishers new to online possibilities. (The cost of the day is up slightly to $125, though a reduced fee of $75 is available to students and members of The Writers’ Union of Canada; a full list of the day’s programming appears on pages 30-31.)
On the “Super Saturday” front, the CBA is expanding its members’ forum this year, after a strong response last year. “They kept bringing in chairs,” says Susan Dayus. “We had people up the aisles, up the front, down the back standing.” This year, the forum is being opened up to include non-CBA members – though attendance is still restricted to booksellers – and accordingly, it’s being renamed the Booksellers’ Industry Forum. Booksellers will also have more time to discuss ideas, as the roundtables following the forum are longer.
At the forum, the CBA will also unveil the results of an industry survey commissioned last year to measure Canadian booksellers’ profitability. And in its trade show booth, the association will be selling a manual for training new staff who have no previous experience in the book industry. Various CBA board directors helped write the manual, which will cost just under $20.
As organizers and exhibitors pull together the final details of this year’s show, they do so while facing the usual complaints about BookExpo, such as its seemingly permanent location in Toronto. Somewhat surprisingly, last year’s main complaint – the lack of firm orders – appears almost forgotten in the advent of BOOKED. The LPG’s Ronda Kellington, for example, refers to the expectation of order-taking at the trade show as “old-fashioned.” Says Kellington: “We thought there was good energy in our booth [last year]. We just want to create some energy, we want to get people into the booth, have a lot of traffic … and get LPG and our publishers into their brains for the fall.”
According to Reed’s Dahlia de Rushe, attendees will have an opportunity to express any concerns with the show, as Reed will once again solicit a cross-section of industry representatives for feedback. An advisory board will be set up following the close of this year’s show to “give direction on major strategic changes and major objectives,” says de Rushe.
For now, most publishers say they’re still committed to the trade show and are going in with a positive attitude. “All the publishers big and small have kind of come together to really try and reinvigorate BEC this year,” says Simon & Schuster’s vice-president of marketing and publicity, Rosslyn Junke, who was on BOOKED’s author selection committee. “People have put their best foot forward this year.”
Still, BOOKED may add more pressure for this year’s show to perform well. Random House director of marketing Linda Scott, who is co-chair of the marketing team behind the readers’ festival, is hoping that attendees will not be overly critical of the new venture. “Realistically, with change there are growing pains,” says Scott. “I would hope … people aren’t looking so critically at the initial changes that if it wasn’t perfect they would throw up their hands and say it didn’t work.”
THIS STORY HAS BEEN CORRECTED: A passage mistakenly stating that the McArthur & Company booth will have a new layout this year has been deleted.