Book Expo America: Rock Concert for Book Lovers

SPI students Vivian Roberson and Chloe Goodhart at BEA

After the first three days of classes, NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) students experienced a change of pace from the classroom when they attended Book Expo America (BEA) at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The conference center was transformed into a huge mall where every “store” featured the same thing: books. Even better for the students, the big books for fall were not only prominently displayed, but in some cases given away as advance reading copies.

Publishing houses at BEA ranged from large companies such as Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Random House, Inc., Simon & Schuster, Macmillan Publishers, Hachette Book Group USA, and HarperCollins Publishers (called, collectively, “The Big Six”) to small independents with only a few employees. There were companies from all over the U.S. and some international publishers as well. But despite their differences in product, size, or even language, the companies were welcoming to us. Staffers were quick to enthusiastically talk shop with those who stopped by to peruse their displays and ask questions.

Another highlight of BEA was the opportunity to attend the panel discussion: “What The Next Generation Thinks: New Voices in Publishing Speak Out” featuring four Master of Science in Publishing students from NYU, two of whom had recently graduated and two still in the program. With the director of the program, Andrea Chambers, acting as moderator, the panelists shared their opinions about the future of the publishing industry and explained how they consume and discover various types of literature and media.

Matt Albrecht, Lavanya Narasimhan, Andrea Chambers, Kristin Vorce, and Maleri Sevier at the BEA panel discussion

“To a certain extent, we are platform agnostic,” said panelist Kristin Vorce. She went on to explain that the discovery of books and other media for the digital generation currently depends more on the ease of access than anything else. All panelists agreed that as part of living in a digital age, mobile usability is key, whether it is for e-books, Twitter, or a game site. When asked if, as readers, they care about—or pay attention to—who publishes a favorite book, Maleri Sevier responded: “Being with a certain publishing house helps others find your books.” Matt Albrecht agreed. “Brands can be recognized as offering a certain quality or value,” he said. All the panelists stressed the importance of companies using reader-friendly marketing tactics. “If marketing doesn’t act as a friend, it becomes something to tune out,” said Vorce. There was also unanimous consensus that print books are not going away any time soon. “Bookstores are still the greatest places in the world for discovery,” said Lavanya Narasimhan.

Besides heavy bags, many students came away from BEA with a new understanding of the industry thanks to conversations with publishing professionals. “I thought it was interesting to get an inside perspective of the industry and a behind-the-scenes look at new material,” said SPI student, Christine Reedy. She also reported collecting a total of around 17 new books, and confirmed this by showing her shoulder bruise from carrying around her swag.

In an informal survey, students reported coming away with a total of anywhere from 10 to 20 new books, with most averaging somewhere in the middle. But new reading material was only a part of the prize; another student, Ardi Alspach, reported a good conversation with staff members from a smaller publishing house, and said she planned to look into future job opportunities there. “They specialize in science fiction and fantasy, which is what I’m interested in,” she said.

For SPI student Mary Gillen, a highlight was something unexpected- the opportunity to meet a few well-known public figures, including actress Kirstie Alley, Hall of Fame football quarterback Jim Kelly, and celebrated journalist Dan Rather. Each was present to promote his or her book…and happy to sign autographs for fans.

As long lines snaked around the Javits Center for author signings and giveaways, the chance to connect with even more authors such as John Green, Mary Higgins Clark, Lois Lowry, Sherman Alexie, Rachael Ray, Tim Gunn, and John Meacham, provided many with a lucky meeting with an old friend.

by Lara Murphey-Waite

The SPI administration asked students to say (briefly!) why they loved BEA. Please click here for some selected comments:


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