Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
The problem of connecting readers with books continues to nag at publishing, but two book trade shows are trying to aid making “matches.” Organizers for the general market’s national convention for industry professionals (BEA) have tried for a couple of years to find a way to invite readers literally onto the exhibit floor of the gigantic show that’s all about books. They’ve wooed a couple thousand “power readers” to special events the last day of the show for two years in a row. Those results were “meh”–good but not great.
But this year’s show (which took place in May in New York) cracked the nut, with 10,000 visitors thronging into the special section of the Javits Center designated for the newly-titled event, BookCon. Those visitors were mostly tweens and teens, eager to see screenings of upcoming films, get autographed books, and to squeal (they were mostly girls) when author John Green discussed the The Fault in Our Stars. Onlookers likened the fans’ response to a Beatles’ event. The place was rockin’ with enthusiasm.
In one week, the Christian Booksellers Association will preside over the Christian version of BEA, the International Christian Retailers Show. Christian publishing, like general market publishing, has found its annual book convention diminished from the glory days, what with so many chains and independent bookstores closing. Several years ago, a special convention, just for Christian readers, was attempted, giving readers an opportunity to connect directly with authors. That idea failed abysmally, despite publishers investing heavily in it. So abysmally everyone in the industry proclaimed, “Never again.” There were lots of reasons it failed that are too complicated to go into in this blog. As a matter of fact, the way it was structured pretty much assured it couldn’t succeed.
This year, I’m sure CBA is hoping its plans to invite the public to an event can be as successful as BEA’s–on a CBA scale, since the Christian industry is miniscule compared to the general market. A “public festival” is being planned for Sunday, June 22, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. The cost of admission is a donation of nonperishable food to benefit an Atlanta-based ministry. Here are the headliners for the festival:
- Duck Dynasty’s Phil and Alan Robertson
- the Peter Furler Band
- comedians Anita Renfroe and Torry Martin
- Abigail Duhom from the movie God’s Not Dead
- Ken Idelman, speaking at the worship portion of the event
- and kids’ events with Christian authors.
Curtis Riskey, president of CBA, told Christian Retailing, “We’ve invited the community to a memorable experience with Christian content creators and local stores while helping neighbors.” (The food donations will be given to a ministry of 28 churches that serves people in Atlanta who are facing life transitions such as joblessness.)
Remember the old Wendy’s commercial in which customers go to other fast-food places (such as McDonald’s), and on being served their burgers ask, “Where’s the beef?” Well, I gotta ask, “Where are the books?”
While it’s great for the folks in Atlanta to see the Duck Dynasty guys, I doubt books will be front and center at the Change A Life Festival. The clearest connection between the festival and books that I can figure is that those attending are to drop off their donations at bookstores.
Okay, I get that ICRS organizers are trying to energize their event yet I can’t help but think that they are communicating that books are boring. The Christian BOOKsellers Association has put together a fabulous roster of entertainers, but the event is not a celebration of books. Does that strike you as odd?
I would say that BEA has found a way to make books exciting to young readers, and that’s a huge accomplishment. They have, in essence, cracked the nut of bringing a significant number of readers together with authors. The publishers haven’t figured out how to translate that in a direct way to book sales, but everyone recognizes that BookCon is an ongoing experiment.
I would hope that CBA would take up the challenge of figuring out how not just to get folks to a fun event but how to connect readers with writers.
What would draw you, as a reader, to a book convention event? Specific authors you’d like to hear? Book signings? Film screenings? Music groups?
All of the above? None of the above?
What would bring readers to a book industry convention? Click to tweet.
Can book industry conventions help readers discover books? Click to tweet.