Book Expo America is an annual gathering where the book industry comes together to talk about the year that was and to prepare for the year that will be. Or at least, that used to be the case. Now, the organizers behind BEA are suddenly trying to do something very different:
The organizers of New York Comic Con, ReedPOP, announced Wednesday they will launch BookCon during BookExpo America, a weekend gathering in New York in late May. The "massive pop culture" event will feature author John Grisham, actress-author Amy Poehler and other well-known guests. BookExpo will have its own celebrity guests, including Lena Dunham and Anjelica Huston, but it's primarily a trade show held for booksellers, librarians and others in the industry. BookCon will be open to the general public.
According to ReedPOP, BookCon will take place May 31 at the Javits Center and include panel discussions, podcasts, interviews and trivia contests — programming also common at BookExpo.
"We want to bottle some of that energy from Comic Con and use it for the book world," said Lance Fensterman, global senior vice president for ReedPOP and a former show manager of BookExpo
Speaking as someone who stopped going to BEA years ago because it seemed increasingly irrelevant, I don't think this is a good idea. I can think of lot of reasons why this isn't a good idea, but most of those reasons boil down to this: Book culture is not comic culture. It's no less passionate than comic culture, but it's a very different kind of passion, a lower-key, less cosplay-friendly passion. It would be terribly embarrassing if New York's publishing world threw a "massive pop culture" convention for books and nobody showed up. This idea reminds me of The Quills, an awkward and ill-advised attempt to bring a glamorous Oscar-style award ceremony to books. You can't simply co-opt the fan culture of one niche—celebrity culture, nerd culture—and just transplant that framework over to another kind of fandom. It doesn't work. If this fails, it will do a lot of damage to the book world. If it succeeds, we'll have another garish, celebrity-obsessed event to clog up the calendar year.
If you want to learn more about my experiences with BEA, I wrote a sort of BEA trilogy for the paper over the course of four years. The first report was from Washington DC in 2006, back when I still worked at Elliott Bay Book Company. The second report was from Los Angeles in 2008. The third and final report was from New York in 2009. I haven't been back since. I don't know if I'll ever go again.