Monday, June 1, 2009

My Virtual Trip to BEA 2009

I didn’t actually get to go to BookExpo America or as they say in the trade, BEA. I was advised not to as Peter H. Fogtdal so humorously pointed out in his blog, I might be shot on sight. Apparently there are those in the industry who believe the only writers who should be there are the published ones as in those who have been paid to have their words printed on paper and bound into books. I am not in that category just yet.

But I was there. Virtually. Via Twitter. I kept a search going for #BEA09 which kept me up to date and gave me a bird’s eye view of what was going on.

From where I sat, it sounded like many a convention I attended in my corporate days, except this one, instead of being about Radio or TV, was about Publishing. There was lots of discussion as to the future of the industry, if there was a future, the place of digital, if we must give it a place, those fearful of what is next versus those excited about what's next. Despite the worries about spending money, and whether it was worth the expense to be there, parties did occur and live, in person networking transpired. Yes, it appeared there was fun to be had.

The conversation is continuing today as those lucky enough to be there digest.

Having had the perspective of all my years in corporate offices, I know what goes on when business isn’t quite right. Panic. It pervades the halls, seeping into the window shades and the carpet. It is so consuming you can almost see it before you get off the elevator.

All anyone can focus on is the numbers. And my favorite, the percentages, which can often make even respectable numbers look bad.

Often the panic gets so fierce that those in charge cannot see beyond their nose to anything but the profit line. And they forget about something important. Strategy. Not strategy as in how many more people can we lay off, but strategy in what can we do to maximize what we do in a changing, recessionary marketplace.

I understand the theme this year was Big Ideas. Here are a few of mine.

Start by stopping the doom and gloom of publishing chatter. Publishing is not going away, nor is the automobile industry or selling television advertising. It’s just changing. Probably more drastically then some would like, but then maybe that needs to be.

Accept that digital is part of the mix. Yes, you have to be lucky enough to afford a Kindle to read a book electronically and just because you can, does not mean everyone is going to want to read that way. But many will. It’s another platform in much the same way you can now choose to watch your favorite show on a television or your computer.

Recognize that all this new technology is making people read MORE and that is a GOOD thing. The key is to get them to read what you have to sell and not just the stuff they get for free. People can watch a network TV movie for free but they still go to movies and pay to see something REALLY good on a big screen.

Publish good stuff. Compelling story gets read. We all know the sagas of the mega hits that the big houses turned down. It was the endorsement of the National Alzheimer’s Association that made Lisa Genova decide to self publish Still Alice. It was not until then and the success of her novel through viral marketing that Simon and Shuster offered her an advance.

Here’s my favorite. How about promoting reading as something fun and affordable? The great escape from a world gone off kilter. Curl up in your favorite chair with a good novel or a great biography and you can get hours of entertainment all dependent on how fast you read. What if the industry collectively did something to promote that reading is a great pastime, and still, even if you splurge for the hardcover edition, one of the cheapest forms of entertainment around.

Maybe these don’t sound like such BIG ideas. Maybe they seem obvious. But my experience in corporate culture is that when things get tough and the panic is high no one seems to really think.

Next year I intend to be there in person. My agent and I are working on getting me the proper credentials at this very moment.
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