Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is BEA Reinventing Itself?

Lance Fensterman's blog post this morning came to my attention as I was writing this. It seems interesting to me that the people running the show are concluding that the show needs to change even as it is changing right before our eyes.

The industry is in transition - duh. The economy is down - duh. The internet is changing everything - duh, duh, duh.

BEA is a giant Sales Conference, why not just acknowledge it and take advantage of the venue to use it that way?

The past two months have been among the most interesting and exhilarating in my professional career. Via twitter, we have tapped into the collective energies of a whole new community of book enthusiasts who have never had a formal role in the industry before. Call them "lit-bloggers", call them "Social Media hounds", call them "twitterers", call them whatever you want, but they are a true force that just might #savepublishing! They have energy and enthusiasm about books and publishing at a time when all of the pundits are projecting doom and gloom.

For us, the signals of this new energy started with the planning of our Follow the Reader Blog at We had the fortunate opportunity to hire Kat Meyer (@katmeyer) and Charlotte Abbott (@charabbott) - a self described odd couple - to be our writers. Kat and Charlotte independently are conduits to both new-school and old-school publishing ideas. And, together on Twitter, have created a weekly conversation, called #followreader, which discusses issues related to the new publishing paradigms - that are literally being created before our eyes.

Independent of Follow the Reader, Kat took on the responsibility to organize a party for all these folks, called the BEATweetup, which has absolutely taken on a life of its own. We jumped on the opportunity immediately to help sponsor this after working with Kat on a similar adventure at the Tools of Change conference last February. The RSVPs for this party are now well over 300, and it seems like its a mini-BEA all by itself. In all deference to my friends at PGW, I think there is a new sheriff in town when it comes to BEA parties!

The latest signal came when we decided to offer some of our booth space over to "lit-bloggers" as a way to have them meet some publishers and some of their fans. What started out as a parody of the "author signings" so prevalent at every BEA, our "blogger signing" idea has threatened to overwhelm Firebrand's entire presence at the show. Three weeks ago, I leaned over to a colleague and said that I thought we would be doing well if 10 bloggers decided to take us up on our offer. Now we have 44 and we have a waiting list.

I would contend that these signals indicate that the show has already started to reinvent itself - without any help from the organizers. It is no longer (and hasn't been for several years) a show about selling books, as much as it has turned into a giant sales conference.

What is changing the most in our industry is the way that consumers are influenced to buy books (in whatever format). They are influenced by personal recommendations from people they trust. (Charlotte did a great job of describing this changing landscape in her post the other day). Publishers still need sales people to go into all of the traditional channels, but they ALSO need to coopt the 'new influencers'.

The BEA is the perfect mechanism to do this. Publishers should take note of all that will be going on next week and meet as many of these influencers as possible. Throughout the course of the year, they should cultivate these relationships, so that next year, BEA will have a strong and positive direction.


trish said...

Great article, Fran! You've really been working hard on helping that change happen, and ultimately that's what gets things going: individuals who do the grunt work. :)

I.A.M. said...

And then there's my new small-press endeavour: Atomic Fez Publishing "Books Are Fun Again", just like the old days before age- & gender-based marketing took over far too much.

Beth F said...

Good job of bringing attention to some of the changes. And thanks for making some of those changes possible.