Reed 'Retiring' BookExpo & BookCon
|The final in-person BookExpo, at the Javits Center in 2019.|
Show organizer ReedPop is "retiring" BookExpo, BookCon and Unbound, effective immediately, the company announced today. It said, in part, "With continued uncertainty surrounding in-person events at this time, the team has concluded that the best way forward is to retire the current iteration of events as they explore new ways to meet the community's needs through a fusion of in-person and virtual events that will reach larger audiences than they ever could before. The ReedPop team is actively engaging in conversations with publishers, booksellers, and other partners, and with their feedback and ideas they will together agree how to best rebuild the events in the future."
Event director Jennifer Martin added: "While we missed not seeing old friends and colleagues in person this year, we believe that canceling our in-person BookExpo, BookCon, and UnBound 2020 events was the correct decision to make. BookExpo Online and BookConline brought us together virtually to celebrate our love of books and remind us that there are other, new ways to gather to support the stories and community we hold dear. The pandemic arrived at a time in the life cycle of BookExpo and BookCon where we were already examining the restructure of our events to best meet our community's needs. This has led us to make the difficult decision to retire the events in their current formats, as we take the necessary time to evaluate the best way to move forward and rebuild our events that will better serve the industry and reach more people than we were able to before. We remain committed to serving the book community and look forward to sharing more information in the future."
The move was not a full surprise to most in the industry since, as ReedPop suggested, the show has been under some stress before the pandemic: although it was once the biggest trade book convention in North America and the place where upcoming books and authors were introduced to booksellers, it has declined in size, attendance and importance in the past few decades. In an era of rapid technological and market changes, the show seemed to lose much of its rationale. For many years, it was the American Booksellers Association's annual convention, when bricks-and-mortar bookstores were a huge part of the book retail market and the show was one of the most effective ways for publishers to reach booksellers. But obviously the Internet has made sales and marketing communication easier year-round, and traditional booksellers are a smaller segment of the market. Also, fewer booksellers attended in recent years because of the higher cost of traveling to New York City, where BookExpo is usually held, and because of the popularity of ABA's Winter Institute, now the biggest event for indies. BookExpo has put a lot of effort into trying to reinvent itself, making it easier for booksellers to attend, promoting rights activities and highlighting non-book products for booksellers, and it may yet find a formula that can appeal to enough people in the industry to re-launch as BookExpo or under a new name.
"The retirement of BookExpo feels like the end of an era," ABA CEO Allison Hill told the AP. Still, she said, the need for booksellers to meet remains strong. "ABA is exploring new ways to bring booksellers, publishers, and authors together in the future. For now, we'll keep bringing everyone together virtually."
One effect of the changes announced yesterday by ReedPop is that with no BookExpo, the ABA's annual meeting will no longer be held at BookExpo and the association will no longer be an official sponsor, which had involved revenues from ReedPop. (The Association of American Publishers has also been an official sponsor.)
BookExpo began in 1947 as the ABA Convention and Trade Show, and for many years was held regularly in Washington, D.C., in the basement of the Shoreham Hotel. It eventually outgrew that venue and then traveled around the country, in part to attract booksellers in different regions, being held in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Las Vegas, Dallas and other cities. For a time, it took place regularly in Chicago at McCormick Place, while in this century the show has been held almost exclusively in New York City at the Javits Center. In the early '90s, the ABA sold half of the show to Reed Exhibitions, then sold the other half in 1994. Reed renamed the event BookExpo America then, effective with the 2017 show, changed the name to BookExpo. This year, BookExpo and BookCon were originally postponed from their original dates of May 27-31 to July 22-26, but then, of course, were cancelled in favor of virtual editions. BookExpo Online and BookConline were held in May during the original dates for the shows.
The "retiring" of BookCon was a surprise. The consumer-facing show that has followed BookExpo since 2014 has been very popular, with crowds that were like those at ABA shows in their heyday.
Although BookExpo had obvious difficulties in recent years, for many in the industry, it's been one of the highlights of the year, when many people see each other in person (finally) and catch up with old friends and have the kind of serendipitous meetings and introductions that can lead to all kinds of new business and lifelong friendships.
Good luck, ReedPop, in reinventing the show!