A First Time Attendees’ Experience
Last week I attended the BookExpo America, or BEA for short, in Chicago. For those unfamiliar, BEA is the largest book convention in North America. Being a first time attendee, I was unprepared for the size, busyness, and extent to which BEA would exhaust me. BEA gives authors, booksellers, distributors, buyers, and librarians a chance to converge at a single event and Ingram has a large presence. My contribution in the Ingram booth was to conduct demonstrations of our ebook applications, CoreSource and Construct. CoreSource is an industry recognized distribution asset management (DAM) tool for publishers to store and distribute their e-content to online retailers and Construct allows publishers to access their stored content and use it to build new custom content. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a fear of public speaking so this was a pretty big, and nerve-wracking, opportunity for me. So here is a summary of my BEA experience.
Day 1 – May 11, 2016
The show opened at 1:00 pm but my first demo didn’t begin until 4:00 pm so I had a bit of time to kill. When I walked onto the floor, it was hard not to be awestruck. McCormick Place had been transformed into a shopping mallesque bookstore. The room was so large that giant orange banners hung from the ceiling, marking the row numbers of the floor map. It was pretty easy to locate the Ingram booth, as it was towered by a huge cube shaped banner that read “INGRAM” on each of the four sides. It was pretty impossible to miss.
After “checking in” at the Ingram booth and getting the inside tip on the
nearest restroom (always a key point), I decided to explore around a bit. Thanks to the BEA mobile app, I knew prior to arrival that one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer, would be signing copies of his new book at 2:00 pm. I got in line right at 2:00 pm and finally got my book signed 50 minutes later. The waiting wasn’t all that bad though because I struck up conversation with the people around me. The lady in front of me had attended the last 10 BEA’s so I was able to get her perspective on the show this year compared to recent years when the show was hosted in NYC.
After getting my book signed, I started walking up and down the rows. There were a few things that I noticed:
- Nearly each booth (and most of them are publishers) gave away tote bags for carrying around all of the books you could pick up. Some of those totes were really cool and witty!
- Not all books are free but you can definitely score some great reads for no cost if you don’t mind reading the galleys or advanced reader copies. As for me, I’m not picky.
- Even after a couple of hours, people were loaded down with books. I’m talking struggling with multiple totes that were bulging at the sides, or pulling once empty suitcases that were now filled with books.
- The show wasn’t limited to publishers. One called Out of Print sold clothing inspired by famous books, featuring t-shirts, socks, and aprons with quotes or well-known book covers. I snagged a free box of matches that had the cover of Fahrenheit 451 on it.
- Adult coloring books were all the rage. They were everywhere and some booths even had coloring murals that anyone walking by could contribute to.
When it was time to perform my first demo, I hoofed it back to home base. I had back to back demos of CoreSource and Construct and then I got the shuttle bus back to the hotel.
Day 2 – May 12, 2016
The exhibit hall opened at 9:00 am and my first demo was scheduled at 10:15 am. After locating a local bakery for breakfast at the recommendation of a friend and colleague, I arrived to the hall around 9:30 am. I touched base with a publisher who has an account with CoreSource and then launched into my demos. The thing about the demos is that people would hang around and chat afterwards so they ended up taking more time than I initially thought. By the time I finished the first session, I had about an hour to grab lunch at the food court on the second floor before my next session of demos began at 2:00 pm.
With this being the first full day of the show, the food court was packed. I ended up eating half of my lunch at a standing counter before a table opened up. I shared the table with two strangers and a colleague from the booth who happened to be looking for a place to sit. One of the strangers explained that she is a book blogger so we told her about a recent acquisition that Ingram made of a company called Aer.io that would allow her to sell books from the Aer.io catalog on her blog. We shared the times of the Aer.io demos that would be occurring over the next two days and encouraged her to attend.
I was able to walk around the show a bit before my afternoon demos. One of the vendors that I discovered was called Litographs. Each year they create a tattoo chain based on a title. This year’s title was a personal favorite, Alice in Wonderland.
So here’s how it worked:
- Lines from the book were available as temporary tattoos with a number assignment, indicating the position of the quote in the collective book.
- You applied the tattoo to your forearm.
- You took a picture of your tattoo and emailed it to the Litograph team with the number assignment in the subject line.
- Your picture is printed and hung in order with all of the other quotes, creating a tattoo chain that tells the story in sequential order.
This was the day that I discovered the self-author area. I browsed around and talked to some really interesting, and eager, authors and was pleased to discover that our own Lightning Source print on demand facility had printed the majority of the books.
Day 3 – May 13, 2016
Demos began at 9:45 am. I had hopes of getting a copy of a Penguin Random House title called Dark Matter by Blake Crouch but the author did not begin signing books until 10:00 am. By the time I was finished with the morning demos, all of the copies were gone and replaced by a different title. So it goes!
By this day, my feet were extremely sore and so was my mouth due to all the talking. I stayed pretty close to the Ingram booth when I didn’t have a demo and tried to make myself helpful. People would walk up, looking thoroughly confused – either they didn’t know who to speak to about an issue or they had a meeting scheduled with an Ingram associate and could not locate them. Fortunately, I was able to direct several people to their proper place.
BEA was a unique opportunity for me and one that I certainly appreciate. I was able to connect with a lot of colleagues that I haven’t worked with in quite awhile, establish new relationships with associates I’ve heard of or only exchanged emails with, and gained a new perspective on the book industry as a whole. My day-to-day routine at work involves data about books – their metadata, when the content reaches the system, when it needs to go out of the system, who needs to access the data, and so on; that I lose perspective on what all of these bits of data translates into. By playing a role in CoreSource and Construct, I assist with making all kinds of rich, informative, and creative content reach the hands and minds of readers all over the globe. Overall, I would sum up BEA as a connection opportunity; connecting with colleagues, connecting with content, and connecting the minutia of book data to the greater picture of the book industry.