2013 Meeting Guide: At the Trade Shows: Hope and Opportunity Spring Eternal

Where is the book industry going, what will my workplace and career opportunities be like, what do I need to know to keep up with the times? Or, in a more cosmic vein, what does the future hold?

In an effort to answer these questions, publishers have settled each year into a series of industry meetings of general interest. Each has a unique theme, as noted below. They make the effort to bring together a cross section of publishers, associations, service providers and media professionals to connect with audiences ranging from first-time aspirants to seasoned managers and executives in every channel and of every level of responsibility.

Following is my own overview of the events with which I have become familiar through the years. I would say that a judicious choice of BEA or ALA and any one of the others whose focus comes closest to your own would provide a more than satisfying menu. If I had to attend only one: (a) I would pick BEA or ALA if my interest was in authors, reading, content and publishing as an enterprise, and (b) if my primary concerns were business development and operating management, I would choose any of the others from whose quality of attendee profiles and lists of presenters, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors I would expect to learn the most.

Here is my list and personal take, in chronological order:

Digital Book World (DBW) — Jan. 15-17, NY Hilton Theme: Opportunity. Innovation. Success.
Not too late to register. Sponsored by F+W Media and intellectually powered by Mike Shatzkin and the Idea Logical Company and Michael Cader and Publishers Lunch — a team of doers, thinkers and observers whose energy and analytical strengths have helped move publishing forward on its new path. DBW benefits by a high level of thematic focus, a willingness to rattle the cages and confront the downside, and attention to the digital and media foundations on which reading experience and publishing as a business are now building their future. You will hear and learn from among the best practitioners in the business. Roughly 1,000 attendees—primarily digital program managers and executives; 35+ sponsors and exhibitors.

Tools of Change (TOC) — Feb. 12-14, NY Marriott. Theme: Connect, Explore, and Create the Future of Publishing.
Now in its sixth year, O’Reilly Media rattles the cages of legacy thinking in TOC and provides programming intended to challenge the imagination and provide the unexpectedly useful. Programming is expert and to my mind eclectic and is best taken immersively and opportunistically—drawing your individual structure and focus out of the experience. Topics and presentations range from well defined to broadly expressive and open. Presentations and peripheral events are in many formats. I have found this to be the most exciting, entertaining and challenging (and exhausting) event. Inspired by Tim O’Reilly, with Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert providing the energy. Roughly 1,000 attendees—across the board technical, operational and executive—and 35+ sponsor and Exhibitors.

IBPA Publishing University 2013 (Pub U) — April 26-27, Palmer House, Chicago. Theme: How to Reach Your Reader and Sell More Books.
This is the premier shirtsleeve event for small and mid-sized independent publishers, offering panels and workshops dealing with the practical issues of producing, selling and distributing books in print and digital form. For many years attached to Book Expo, IBPA’s Pub U decoupled in 2011 after 20 years and holds its events independently. Attendance ranges from 300 to 600 depending on the year, with more than 100 presenters. Opportunities are provided for one-on-one meetings with experts and roundtables with all the major independent distributors. IBPA also sponsors the annual Ben Franklin awards. Inspired by its late founding Executive Director Jan Nathan’s ethical and marketing services foundation, IBPA’s Florrie Kichler, Terry Nathan and Lisa Krebs drive the energy today.

Making Information Pay (MIP) — May 2 at the McGraw Hill Auditorium in NYC. Theme: Data. Information. Knowledge. Wisdom. .
This is the best half-day go-round for fully engaged and experienced industry professionals and insiders. The rebirth of BISG as a standards setting watchdog during the past 10 years or so, shaped among others early on by Joe Gonella as Chair, and Executive Directors Jeff Abraham and then Michael Healy, finds the organization uniquely positioned as a forum for both publishers and service providers. Its franchise covers both book industry and non-book industry channels of book distribution, for which uniform standards of distribution and metadata are key to productivity and to effectively serving a rapidly changing market. With MIP, it has evolved a half-day format that provides an intensive overview of trends and topics at the industry’s leading edges of development. Its venues limit audience size to about 350 or so, and hence maintain an intimacy of scale, maximizing the networking experience. More recently, BISG’s former co-chair Dominique Raccah helped consolidate the organization’s new vision, now directed by Len Vlahos. BISG’s Angela Bole masterminds the MIP event.

Book Expo America (BEA) — May 30-June 1. The Javits Center. Theme: Great Expectations: The Mysterious Future of Content.
The industry’s emblematic literary and publishing event attracts more than 20,000 book industry attendees. BEA has been working hard in recent years to manage its format to keep pace with the industry’s rapid deconstruction and reformation in reading venues, distribution networks and the challenges and opportunities offered by electronic media, social networking and the internet. Attendees can choose from a wide range of hundreds of events and presentations by major industry figures, associations and service providers. To this observer, BEA remains the most useful networking and deal-making experience, the most expansive showroom for trade, professional, religious, children’s, independent and academic publishers and their distributors, and the most diverse gathering of authors and agents. Also an increasing foreign publisher presence. It is not to be missed if books are your interest and your business. Steve Rosato is Show Manager.

American Library Association (ALA) — Annual Meeting June 27-July 2, McCormick Place, Chicago. Theme: Transforming our Libraries, Ourselves.
Also with more 20,000 in attendance, ALA increasingly rivals BEA as a literary venue. It is distinguished by its comprehensive presence of information and content management professionals and services. Librarians make up the core of attendance. They are a powerful force in book discovery, selection and sales. While libraries struggle with adjustments to limited budgets and changing reading habits, they remain firmly rooted in their communities (and in their real estate). They do not suffer the attrition of the bookselling community. Hundreds of educational and working sessions at the event mostly for librarians as well as of interest to general industry professionals.

Publishing Business Conference and Expo (Pub Expo) – Sept 23-25, NY Marriott. Theme: to be announced.
Pub Expo remains the one event that provides grounding through exhibitors and its programs in the transition from print to digital and the effective blending of digital and print media in demand publishing, web strategies and internet marketing and distribution. Cuttingedge attention to print media as well as digital technology and the strategies for pricing, distribution and management of content for multiple platforms. This is the granddaddy industry event for operating, production and distribution executives and professionals, tracing its origins to when it filled two floors with displays of the latest in pre-press, printing and binding equipment. Of all the events it enjoys my greatest personal affection both because of its legacy in print, and because of my long standing relationship of many years with Book Business magazine. This year it is being scheduled to launch the fall and winter seasons. 2,500-3,000 attendees, plus more than 100 exhibitors.

Of course, to get the full benefit of these events you have to be able to afford to attend. You need to plan carefully in advance to maximize the use of your time. You also need to allow for the unplanned serendipity of discovery and connection that makes the experience especially worthwhile. Also to have backup options in case you find yourself ready to leave an event that isn’t cutting it for you.

The rise of independent and self publishing, groups such as the IBPA, PAW and SPAN, have provided alternative events to the mainstream pub lishing associations. They have focused more on marketing and building the enterprise, than on the maintenance and development interests of matured organizations.

With the advent of easy-to-manage and to-afford virtual online conferences and webinars, many of the benefits of trade conferences are within reach of almost anyone, anywhere, wherever a computer or portable device can connect to the internet. But there is no truly satisfying substitute for the palpable experience of a live conference.

Until this year I was able to attend most of these events – whether from my recent home base in New York or, in earlier years, as a well-traveled West Coast based business consultant.

This time around, having relocated once again to Southern California this past summer, I will again be following these events from the west, but not attending. However, I can still encourage readers to take advantage of the irreplaceable opportunities that trade meetings offer — not only to keep abreast of what is going on, but to recharge your spirits, to get out of your box and to meet others who complement and share your interests and from whom you might learn something new.

Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.

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  • Cook & Taylor

    Great! Helpful overview!