Book Expo America 2007: The Year of the Thinking Reader

If this year’s Book Expo America is an indicator, the U.S. is finally waking up.

Everywhere I walked I saw books that required thinking skills. Lots of books about politics, culture—including non-white and non-Western cultures, books, maps of non-US destinations.

Out of first 40 or so press kits in the press room, three were on India or China, including one by India’s former Defense Minister (In Service of Emergent India). Others: China’s Brave New World; Images of a Journey: India in Diaspora.

Those were just the ones that got their press kits in early Friday morning. There were many other books on international issues.

Most of the above were from small and mid-sized houses, though there are certainly exceptions. Valerie Plame Wilson, for instance, the CIA operative who was outed by Scooter Libby, is publishing with Simon & Schuster. One other genre the biggies don’t seem to be afraid of is the environment. Publishers of all sizes had books on going green and/or the problem of climate change. An judging by conversations I’ve had this year, that’s one issue that’s passed the “tipping point” and is now very mainstream—more so even than the war.

Numerous books on leadership, and on brain function—including several from a number of publishers on kids and brain function.

It’s a year of great titles that actually made me stop in my tracks: Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress (a title I liked so much I set up an interview with the author, a serious Dungeouns and Dragons player); No Guns, No Knives, No Personal Checks: The Tales of a San Francisco Cab Driver; From Misfit to Millionaire (subtitle); The School for Gods; The Ghosts of Guantanamo Bay (fiction); Digital Dharma, many others.

Big publishers spending most of their promotion and visibility on the usual suspects—tried and true authors—nothing much catching my eye

For the first time in my eleven years at the show, there was lots of action in the small press and Afro-Am sections; perhaps booksellers are finally catching on that this is where the innovators, the culture keepers, and the most creative voices can be found, even if you have to sort through some dreck to get to it. And truth is, it was quite easy to tell those exhibitors who had a clue from those who didn’t. (An example of the latter: I asked a guy for his 10-second pitch and he said, “I’ve written the Great American Novel.” When I answered that there were probably 10,000 people in the building at that very moment who would make that claim and asked what set his apart, he couldn’t answer.

You can tell that the industry is drying up a bit by the drastic reduction in freebies. Where in the past, there were huge stacks of ARCs in just about every aisle, often 10 or 20 different books from a single large publisher, these were much fewer in number. There were plenty of books given out, at signings, and just along the booths. But many of the stacks were 20 or fewer books rather than dozens and dozens. There was also a lot less free food, though some booths brought in outside caterers like Dean & Deluca (yum!) And the Jenkins Group party, formerly a networking Nirvana that felt like it had about as many people as live in Wyoming, was scaled back to a very restricted guest list. I didn’t get an invite this year. I was told by one person that it was small and quiet. But according to Al Canton’s show report, it was just as hopping as ever.

Technology News:

The hottest thing I saw at the show, hotter than any book, is Margaret Atwood’s new gadget, called LongPen. This astonishing gadget allows author and fan to interact over video, and for the author to actually sign a book from thousands of miles away! I can think of dozens of uses for this technology. Atwood apparently came up with the idea when signing an electronic tablet for a courier delivery, thinking incorrectly that she was actually recording her signature on a piece of paper somewhere.

I was told (have not verified) that the New York Times now serves 1.5 million readers a day on its website, and only 1 million with the print edition.

Finally, on-demand print quality for full color has made huge strides. It’s almost as good as offset now.

Please see these related stories from the 2007 Book Expo America:

BEA 2007: The Year of the Thinking Reader

Social Entrepreneurship: Make a Difference AND a Profit

Big Authors at Small Presses, #1: Ralph Baruch: First, Cable—And Then?

Big Authors at Small Presses, #2: David Silverman: An Industry Dies of Outsourcing

Big Authors at Small Presses, #3: Naomi Wolf: The End of America

Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress

Remote Signing Technology: The Coolest Thing at BEA

Shel Horowitz is the award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers>, and five other books, and the editor of Down to Business Magazine.