After reading the "How to fix BEA?" article in the 8/10/09 edition of Publishers Weekly, it struck me again how timid the thought process is of both Reed and the publishers they listen. Once the ABA sold the show to Reed, the original concept (bookseller oriented annual show) should have been reworked. Reed's customer is not the bookseller, but the publisher who pays for space. And publishers have been tolerating the show for years, but only with diminishing investment required of them. This is because the major challenge in the industry is not publishers reaching booksellers with their fall list (the way it used to be). As the role of the bookseller has been reduced (primarily) to ringing up the sale on the cash register (see my previous blog), the new challenge for publishers is to identify and reach the new "influencers" who will recommend their titles and authors.
Since the traditional print media has drastically reduced book review coverage, this influencer role has increasingly shifted to bloggers, twitterers, facebookers, and social networkers in general. Even if a book is featured on TV, the amplifying effect of social networkers noting the appearence is crucial to building popular awareness. While booksellers still need to have product available (whether p or e), influencers are the demand creators of the 21st century.
Again, what is a major challenge facing book publishing? It is to reach the social networkers with appropriate titles and the accompanying information so they can do their magic. What if Reed made the effort to attract the top social networkers who recommend books to the BEA? What if Reed set up a section in the hall for them, documented the topics they were interested in, and then facilitated scheduling meetings and pitch sessions for publishers. What if software players like Net Galley and Bowker, or organizations like BISG helped publishers capture and assimilate the pertinent data on social networkers and tracked their activity, followers, and helped publishers see the relevant data on how consumer sales (Book Scan) moved due to those efforts?
BEA may be irrelevant, but the industry has needs that a major aggregating event can help address. It just happens that need is not about booksellers.