The Floor is Crowded Again: Industry Professionals AND Readers Flock to BEA 2012

Show trends:

Attendance seemed to be way up this year, especially on the last day, when selected book lovers from the general public gained access to a show that had always been open only to the trade. The whole vibe had good energy, and vendors were upbeat.

Autograph lines were either very long (both celebrities and mid-list) or very short. Many of the long lines were encouraged by surprisingly large numbers of touts holding placards, posters, or even postcards and directing people to signings happening right then.

Shockingly few books on politics for a presidential election year, especially from larger houses. Some books on the Occupy movement or the economy. And some on the Tea Party and Sarah Palin (a little late, I’d say). Progressive publishers include Haymarket and Basic Books, among others. Conservative houses like Regnery and Naval Academy Press were also represented. The mainstream publishers seem to be largely ignoring the whole political world. In their displays, it was even hard to find the usual run of books on why Washington is broken.

In: multimedia/ebooks, vegan, religious, picture books and art books on very narrow niches (like Medieval Middle Eastern swords).

That last is part of another trend: niching and cross-niching within existing niches: combining, for instance, a how-to emphasis with a particular demographic. I interviewed one author who exemplifies this: Yvette Garfield, who wrote and published four Handstand Kids multicultural kids cookbooks with accompanying kitchen equipment such as aprons and measuring spoons: Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and Baking Around the World:

“We’re synergizing all these areas. It’s an opportunity for kids to learn about cultures through their food. We go beyond the food because at the beginning of the book, all the foods and utensils are translated. And we show the kids in cultural scenes. We think of the kitchen as the vehicle to learn about the world.”

Why and how did you get started?

“I was working in international children’s rights, with the Department Of Justice in child rights (anti-sex slavery). I thought it would be nicer to focus on the positive side, and food was a way to do that. I had graduated law school, so I had knowledge of how to set up a business. I wanted to maintain creative control. I thought of it as more than a small publishing company; we have a line of aprons and textiles [Amazon lists some of her products under toys and games or Miscellaneous Supplies]. We launched in 2007 and market through trade shows, social media, mommy bogs, TV cooking segments, and word-of-mouth. Kids love it because it gives them their own appropriate and supervised access to the kitchen.”

Florrie Binford Kichler, President, IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association), commented on the strong attention IBPA’s full-row pavillion was attracting: “We’re getting a lot of interest from librarians, booksellers, and media. It’s a thrill when CNN Book TV comes over here looking for one of our publishers. There are also a lot of people thinking about publishing, who need guidance, and we help past the deer-in-headlights phase.

“Traffic is up, and it will be interesting to see how this experiment of admitting ‘power readers’ on the last day works out. I think in this age of selling direct, that will prove a good move for the show.”

I tried to get comment from BEA about the success of the power reader initiative, but multipe calls and e-mails were ignored.

Zolabooks: Is this the Company that will Finally Take on Amazon?

Every year, there’s some company positioning itself as the next Amazon, or even an “Amazon-killer.” And just as Amazon did in Borders while Facebook made MySpace largely irrelevant, Amazon may actually be vulnerable. The most interesting contender in years might be I interviewed Michael Strong, co-founder/COO:

“Zolabooks is an ebook retailer offering very favorable terms for exclusivity: equity in the company and 100% of Net [70/30 split on gross revenues] plus social media integration and ability to contact any buyer of your book.

“[Superstar bestselling author] Audrey Niffinegger will be making e-copies of Time Traveler’s Wife available through this platform.It has not been available as an ebook before.

“We’re going to have all the books from all the publishers, so most will be from the Big 6 (nonexclusive). Any of those authors will have access to this data.”

As we were talking, Niffinegger walked over and shared her reasons for getting involved: “Joe Regal, the founder of Zolabooks, was my agent. He and I have been discussing the e-rights for years, and we never felt there was a good sensible option. Then he had this idea for Zola, and as that became more interesting, we decided this was the correct outlet and could help both Zola and Time Traveler. A lot of authors still have pre-e-rights contracts” and might be attracted to Zola’s model.

“People thought I was a Luddite—but I was just waiting for a better alternative. I’m amazed at the complexity and the generosity of the site. They want to make a community and not just a place that sells stuff. I’ve been watching it since the very beginning.”

Michael: “It was over a year ago that we began talking in earnest about a comprehensive solution. The company was incorporated in September.”

According to the marketing literature Michael gave me, Zola is actively reaching out not only to authors, but also to independent bookstores, independent publishers, bloggers, and book lovers—offering wider exposure, better analytics, device-independence, community and event features, and many other benefits, along with substantially better royalties. Some of the literature emphasizes socially conscious thinking such as supporting local businesses rather than chains.

This company shows a lot of promise. If they can make their business model work and still make a healthy profit within its very favorable terms, I predict there will be a lot of slow-building but very effective buzz (much like there was when the betas of Google’s search engine first started getting talked about)—and that, like Google, it will reach critical mass. This is the first company I’ve seen that could really create a more attractive proposition than Amazon for authors, publishers, and book store owners. Now—will it reach the general-public book consumer?

It’s also important t remember that Amazon was not profitable for its first several years, but was deep-pocketed enough to hang in there and eventually become very profitable indeed.

Meanwhile, Amazon is not standing still. I spoke with a representative from the company’s publishing arm, CreateSpace, who asked that I not name her.

She told me that according to figures from R.R. Bowker (publisher of Books In Print and registrar of ISBNs in the US), CreateSpace is the top on-demand publisher. The company makes it easy and affordable to go to press both in print (with no price penalty for printing even a single copy at a time) and electronic editions, and has now instituted some quality-enhancing features like an interior review and a trim-size tutorial, along with a free app to convert books to Kindle.

The company saw growth of 90% in 2010-2011, and 80% in 2009-2010, which translates to nearly four times as much revenue now as in 2008, if my math is correct. “We reached 3 million titles a couple of years ago.”

Clients are not just unknowns, either: “It really runs the gamut. We recently worked with former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Katrina’s Secrets. He certainly could have chosen a traditional publisher. He was intent on telling his story in his own words and not sanitized. We’re working with Michael Vitez, a long-time journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, a Pulitzer Prize winner. He just put out his second book [his first was The Rocky Stories, traditionally published]. He said that he has a great agent and she couldn’t get a publisher. He feels the system is broken. He says ‘this is a Rocky story.’ James Altucher has many different books out. He published five or six traditionally, and is now going with CreateSpace and not looking back. He knows you don’t wait for the phone to ring. We had a bestselling romance/thriller author, Theresa Ragan (pen name TR Ragan). Several of her books have made the Kindle Top 100, and she’s one very happy author.”

Shel Horowitz’s most recent book is Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green. His coverage of previous BEAs can be found at