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BookExpo America 2013

June 25, 2013

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New York

Debbie Williams

BookExpo America is the largest book trade fair in the world with over 10,000 people attending and over 1,500 exhibitors. So it was truly an honour to be asked to speak and participate at this year’s fair and I didn’t hesitate to accept. Held in New York City’s Javits Center the fair has a bewildering number of stalls, panels, presentations and plays host to authors big and small, publishers, experts, readers and book retailers.

Although I have attended, exhibited and participated at most of the book trade fairs – Bologna, Frankfurt and London – this was my first time at the BookExpo and I wondered how it would compare. The BookExpo certainly has a different feel to the others. Readers, lesser well-known authors and small publishers are welcomed and there is less of a closed shop feeling. “Power readers” were even given their own day towards the end of the BookExpo with lots of bestselling authors to meet and panels to attend. Apparently, this was a first for the BookExpo and has received mixed feedback from publishers but the participants and the authors seemed to enjoy themselves with the many of them saying that it was good to interact with their readers directly; something which they are doing more of in the digital environment.

Michael Connelly poster

Moving on to everyone’s favourite topic at the moment – digital. This is where I found the largest difference between the BookExpo and other book trade fairs. The ‘digital divide’ was not as evident as in the London Book Fair where anything considered “digital” is relegated to another room (alongside the foreign language publishers) and all digital panels, forums and events are hosted on a separate day (a Sunday) and cost a premium – not included in the admission price. Digital seemed to be, for the most part, integrated into every bit of the BookExpo with most publishers and many authors showcasing their digital products alongside their traditional ones and forums, events and speakers on digital topics happening every day. This I found heartening.

Far from publishers, authors and readers being down beat and hearing the death knell of their industry, I found them energised and confident. Based on many conversations with exhibitors and attendees the so called “digital revolution” appears to be more of an evolution rather than dissolution. Recurrent themes in all the conversations were the challenges of going digital for latecomers, creating a compelling analogue to print experience and the continued need for digital asset creation for sales, marketing and promotion in addition to the publications themselves.

My personal highlight from the BookExpo was the Publishing Hackathon. This was  a collaborative digital programming event which started before the BookExpo and ran throughout the fair.


The Hackathon was conceived as a way to bring technology, venture capital and publishing players together for the first time to address the challenge of book discovery in the digital world.  Led by a group of major media industry participants including The Perseus Books Group, Librify, BookExpo America, AlleyNYC, and William Morris Endeavor (WME) it attracted 200 participants and over 30 different teams sought to develop new ideas for digital book discovery.  This was narrowed down to just six teams who had 10 days to refine their projects. The final was held on 31st May and each team had just five minutes to pitch and demonstrate their final submissions to a very distinguished panel of judges and the audience. I can confirm that it was terrifying yet exhilarating. I am always lecturing my students about how important pitching skills are in publishing and now it was my turn to prove it!

The finalists were:

Bookcity – a platform suggesting novels that take place in the places that you visit

Captiv – a sort of Tripadvisor for books

Coverlist – a book discovery site that replicates a book list experience matching books with readers based on likes, dislikes and emotions

KooBrowser – a site which recommends books for you based on your web reading patterns. The more you browse, the better the book suggestions

Library Atlas – A Digital Librarian to “check out” genres, authors, books, and cities that will then send you a message with a quote that fits your preferences when you are on location where the quote occurs

Evoke – a platform designed for young adults which seeks to connect readers with new characters via their emotion. It enables books and the characters that inhabit them to be browsed based on the emotions they cause. Readers can choose to be inspired, challenged, amused, or informed depending on their mood


Setting aside the fact that many of the names need some work there was some genuinely unique and exciting ideas circulating during the Hackathon. The most inspiring thing for me was the energy in the room. Participants were genuinely excited by the opportunities that digital advances afford them and even more so by working with people that they would never normally encounter. The deserving winners were Evoke and hopefully the enthusiasm and dynamism which was a feature of the group will continue.

The BookExpo just confirmed for me what I have always believed – that although there may be changes in the book and publishing industry the urge to tell stories is a very powerful one which will never die. We just have to work out what that means for us as industry experts.

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