Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Regional Book Events Make Nothing But Sense

I felt very honored to be asked to give a presentation about my most recent book at the Western Book Rep Association’s spring Book Fair in Victoria, British Columbia yesterday. It’s a great event and I met a lot of interesting and passionate people; people who care about books.

The WBRA does this twice a year: one in late winter in Victoria, then one in summer in Vancouver. It’s very intimate but superbly functional. A small trade fair. Some professional development. I’m not sure how many people attend, but I would guess it’s under 500 in total. Perhaps even fewer. Honestly: were you to attend the entire event from start to finish, you would have a reasonable expectation of meeting everyone if you were so inclined. So “intimate” really does cover it. I was only there for one evening and one morning but in that time, I heard a lot of laughter and a good number of interesting conversations. It’s a great event.

Like a lot of Canadians in book-related industries, I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to the state of trade book events in this country of late. I even editorialized a bit about it in this space last week. Because, of course, BookExpo Canada -- the Canadian sister fair to BookExpo America that was held by the same company -- died a fairly unlamented death recently. Unlamented because, according to most of the people I’ve spoken with about it, BEC came out of the gate broken and just kept getting worse. Bottom line: it was expensive for most people to get to and since its usefulness for booksellers was never that clear, it got to be less and less important to the industry. And now it’s gone. The only question now is: what happens next?

Since Reed announced BEC’s death, several people have mentioned how powerful small, regional exhibitions can be. Having now experienced WBRA’s wonderful Book Fair I completely get that. At the Book Fair, a handful of invited authors spend a generous amount of face time with the people who will ultimately be selling their books to the public. Since it is a regional fair, those same booksellers enjoy meeting the actual reps who manage their accounts and perhaps the occasional sales V.P. who has come out to add their expertise. That’s a very different story than one finds at the large centralized bookfairs of yore, where senior executives could be counted on to spend very little time at the booth, opting instead to give their time to larger clients. Which means that most booksellers -- i.e. most small independent bookstore owners -- quite often ended up at the booth talking to whatever publishing company staffer could be tricked into spending time there.

In a country as large as Canada, small regional book events are the logical next step. Richer experiences for booksellers and publishers and less investment for everyone, in terms of both travel and venue outlay, it’s an idea that makes nothing but sense.

Meanwhile, the book industry in Canada is aquiver with discussion about what will take the place of the BookExpo, for several years the central bookfest. Some of those answers might come in Toronto in June at BookCamp. The Quill & Quire blog adds the 4-1-1 here.



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