June 01, 2014

The Truth About BEA & BookCon

I just got back from this year's BEA event in NYC, and I want to summarize a few things for those of you who wonder what happens there, or what this BookCon thing is, or what's going to happen to BEA in the future...which is a big question, for sure.

BEA is short for Book Expo America.

It's a trade show held at the Javits convention center in NYC each year (until 2015, that is). If you've never been to a trade show, imagine an enormous building the scale of a concert hall, lined with booths and banners. What's in all of those booths? Publishers, but also companies that are related to publishing (including printing services, toy companies, app groups, etc).

For most people, the only parts of the BEA floor that hold interest are the publisher's booths. During the show, you can get ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of books from these booths, as well as line up to get books signed by certain authors (there's also a large Autographing Area for this specific purpose). What this means overall is that you end up walking around a crowded convention hall, trying to decide which book to line up for, if the line is too long, or if there might be a book drop (an unscheduled release of ARCs) at any of the big booths.

Yes, you can get a bunch of books for FREE at BEA...but that's changing.

While this year's event is fresh in my mind, here's what I think is coming: BEA as a trade show has lost some of it's past functionality. Meaning, there aren't a TON of publishing deals going down at the show compared to the past. Publishers are seeing less incentive to spend a lot of money on the event (and that means fewer free books for attendees).

Plus, the books they are giving away aren't intended as awesome presents from heaven--they're intended to help market the upcoming books and build buzz. That's why the event is traditionally limited to publishing professionals, including bloggers. Bloggers and avid readers will promote a book and build buzz, and therefore are worth the investment. The general public isn't considered as great of an investment when it comes to ARCs.

This year, I also noticed that the ARCs were even more tightly controlled than last year. Many book drops were scheduled, instead of being randomly set out. Some of the book drops even required lines, which meant that over all, you weren't going to grab as many books (because there is only so much time, and you can only wait in so many lines).

So, professional or public, BEA is changing.

It's not so much about the books anymore.

Instead, BEA is evolving into a more consumer-centric event with the advent of BookCon.

Now, BookCon came about in a way that was uber confusing for a lot of attendees. Last year, BEA offered Power Reader passes, which were one-day passes for the public to attend the show on Saturday. This was the only opportunity for "non-publishing" people to attend this show. Usually, you have to be an author, blogger, or publishing professional of some sort to attend (again, that whole "investment" concept).

But back to BookCon. This year, after Power Reader passes were sold, attendees were informed that a new event was taking place--BookCon--and that their Power Reader passes were being reassigned to this event. Most people crossed their fingers and hoped for the best: that BookCon would be the same as Power Reader day last year.

Well, it wasn't.

And it's not going to be in the future, either.

BookCon is run by the same entity that runs ComicCon. They are focused on consumers, celebrity, and drawing large amounts of revenue by bringing those two entities together. Like ComicCon, BookCon was focused on panels. Panels are basically presentations/Q&As with important people of some sort--in BookCon's case, the panels were mainly focused on authors and celebrities with tie-ins to publishing or book-to-film projects (like TFioS, Stan Lee & Marvel books, Dystopian panel including Veronica Roth). Yes, there were panels on other topics like diversity, but by and large, the panels were focused on presenters with some clout behind their names, culminating in the TFioS panel with John Green.

So, what happened at BookCon?

Basically, thousands of people showed up and lined up for different panels or a few select book giveaways on the BEA floor. By noon, publishers on the BEA floor started packing up. Their trade show was over, which was utterly confusing to many of the BookCon attendees hoping for free books. There weren't a lot of those on Saturday, because BookCon attendees are perceived as the general public, and remember, they aren't the intended audience for ARCs. But there were a lot of opportunities to line up and see celebrities, as well as a greater emphasis on poster, sticker, and button giveaways.

So, if you're considering attending BEA next year, while it's still in NYC, here are a few important details to keep in mind:

  • BEA is evolving toward a pop culture event for consumers centered around books and authors, as quoted from this PW article.
  • BookCon organizers have announced the intention to hold MULTIPLE BookCon days in 2015, with an increased focus on consumer attendance and revenue generation, as described here.
  • BEA is moving to Chicago in 2016, and the word I heard is that many publishing pros will not be able to justify attending, and so the event is likely to evolve even further toward the ComicCon approach. Meaning, there will be a focus on books and authors, but in the celebrity-viewing sense, with fewer free books.
  • Many authors attend BEA because it's in NYC, and they get a chance to meet with their editors, agents, and publishing friends while in town. Many of us are only at the show itself for smaller periods of time, so a lot of the fun stuff you see on Twitter and the like is not even at BEA itself.

So, consider all of this before you invest in attending--what will you get out of BEA? Or BookCon? They are fun events,  but also events with a very specific purposes, and those purposes are changing. In the future, I think BEA will have less and less emphasis on books, and more on cultural tie-ins that tend to be more lucrative, as evidenced with the shift toward BookCon. It's something to keep in mind.


  1. My biggest gripe with Bookcon was lack of crowd management. The lines were ridiculous without any organization whatsoever. Actually, in most cases you couldn't even call it a line - just a clump of people. They needed to invest in those rope barricades like they have in Disney World. Of course most of the day was spent waiting in line. If you didn't line up hours (sometimes 2) in advance you were not getting into a panel. That meant a lot of time waiting in lines, and little time to do anything else. I wish I had more time to walk the floor, but alas I probably spent all of 20 minutes doing that before they shut down. I really miss PowerReader day.

    1. I hear you, Ella! I felt terrible for the people who were at BookCon for the books, rather than the celebrity panels. It's something to keep in mind for next year for sure.

  2. Great post! I attended BEA for the second time this year, and I definitely saw a shift in how things were run and what the focus was centered on. Thanks for breaking this down for everyone!

  3. This is a great overview! This was my first time attending BEA on a Saturday in general, let alone Book Con - in the past, I'd had a regular BEA badge through the publisher I worked for and attended on a weekday. This year, it was nice to have an opportunity to go to Javits and catch up with writer friends (like you!), plus get a few books signed by authors, but otherwise, the Book Con pass wasn't worth the crowds and hassle. If I go next year, I'll definitely try to get a regular badge instead. It'll be interesting to see how it all changes in the future. But it sucks to think that they are moving further away from books, which is what BEA has always been about for most people!


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