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June 5, 2014

The Book Parade: Three Thoughts on Book Expo America

Book Expo America, the big publishing industry get-together, took place in New York last week; this year, it included BookCon, a day dedicated exclusively to readers, and a clear attempt at rebranding an industry event into, well, a fan convention. Julia wandered the exhibit halls and attended the IDPF Digital Book conference, which was one of the special events within the larger convention.

Rock stars and the rest of the world

It’s hard to walk around BEA without feeling the glee of being surrounded by so many books and readers: there are books everywhere, in multiple languages and formats, and there are lines of fans waiting to have their books autographed by their favorite authors. Especially now that the industry has thrown the doors open to the public, one feels a certain sense of awe at the gigantic author photos all over the place. Writers as rock stars – not a common sight in America. But while we can all agree that John Green is a rock star, not every writer is John Green (or Carl Hiassen, or Jodi Picoult), and some of the authors with the longest lines of people waiting for autographs are not actually famous for being writers (Neil Patrick Harris, Anjelica Houston).

Is a “Book” convention too big and too general for anyone but the most famous and best-selling writers to be visible in that context? Thinking back at the mystery conventions I’ve attended in the past couple of years (BoucherCon, Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime), I have to say that the genre-specific “con” is a much better venue for writers and readers to actually interact, for fans to find new writers, and for new and lesser-known writers to find new fans. And in fact, you could have an actual drink with your favorite writer at the bar, which I have to imagine is far cooler than a 30-second interaction in an autograph line.

How many book subscriptions does a person need?

Book subscriptions are very hot. OK, so maybe you personally as a reader don’t have a book subscription yet (I don’t), but if you’re a start-up in the publishing space looking for investors chances are you’re offering some kind of ebook subscription model. For a few years now, the question has been: Who will emerge as the Netflix of books? The ebook subscription services you may have heard about are Oyster (as many books as you can read for $9.99 a month) and Scribd (as many books as you can read for $8.99 a month), but there are many others out there battling for readers’ eyes. At IDPF I learned about an app called Rooster, which delivers two books a month in small daily chunks of about 15 minutes of reading time a day, for $4.99 a month, which would be useful for people who claim to not have time to read. In my admittedly un-savvy opinion, the book subscription space has become just a touch oversubscribed, and it will be interesting to see which companies make it through, and in what form.

According to Nielsen data presented at IDPF, the early adopters of book subscription are also buying a lot of books in other formats; they are, in other words, readers who consume (or at least purchase) a lot of books. I don’t personally feel the need for a book subscription (though I will likely get one to see how it works), and I wonder why that is, given that I currently consume music and video primarily in streaming form and have digital subscriptions to a couple newspapers and magazines. It might have something to do with my teetering to-read piles and the fact that at the moment reading two books a month counts as a personal triumph. Or perhaps my excellent local bookstore which makes discovery a breeze. I can, however, see the value of it for the purposes of checking out a hot new title everyone is talking about, but that I don’t necessarily want to commit the price of either a hardcover or a download to. What do you think, dear readers? Do you have an ebook subscription? If you don’t, would you sign up for some kind of all-you-can-eat ebook subscription similar to Netflix? Let us know!

Reading, Publishing, Time

The last talk I heard at IDPF was Douglas Rushkoff’s keynote about time, technology, and reading (Rushkoff is the author of the book Present Shock), and it made me think about what an inefficient use of time reading a novel is; a luxury, even a waste of time, it has been argued, especially if it falls into the category described by the term “escapist fiction.” However, another word for “escapist” could well be “immersive”: In 2014, a reader who has escaped into the pages of a book is no longer surfing the stream of real-time data; she is deep underwater, fully immersed. She is, one could say, taking her time. I do rather love the idea that, as Rushkoff said, what publishers give their readers is not just a text, but time with an author. And for that to happen, the reader and the author don’t even have to meet outside the pages of the book.



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