BEA Diary 2001
[For newcomers: This is a weekly article designed to satirize, educate, and
editorialize on issues pertinent to the Pub-Forum list, the publishing
industry, and book selling.]
A Saturday Rant 6-9-01
“It’s a long way from Fair Oaks to O’Hare. A long time to hang in the
Well, we won’t be hearing much from John Denver anymore, but he had it pegged
when it comes to having to fly into the nation’s busiest airport. What a zoo.
I got my luggage, got on board the airport shuttle and journeyed forth to the
Hilton, hoping that it would not be the “dump” that last’s year’s Marriott
The Chicago Hilton is not a dump, by any imagination. Having been restored to
the beauty of it’s ancestral past, I felt that this would be a nice place to
live for a few weeks. And if my number was up, it would not be a bad place to
have one epitaph written in either… especially since they gave me a corner
suite with concierge (i.e. free breakfast) privileges.
Because the place was huge, I thought I’d go on a short “explore” to get the
lay of the land and to see who might have gotten in early.
It would have been cheaper to have stayed in my room. Upon entering the
lobby, the first person I met was none other than the Book Princess herself,
Mayapriya Long (www.bookwrights.com) OK, so she is a great designer, and OK,
so she is blonde (my weakness), and OK, so she is fun to be with, she was NOT
the first person I wanted to see. Why? Because she is the world’s greatest
vegetarian chow-hound (but in shape like a Cosmo cover model) and the first
words out of her mouth were “Let’s go to lunch.” which you can loosely
translate as “Why don’t you TAKE me to lunch!” which really means “Guess who
is going to PAY for lunch!”
After a long walk up Wabash Ave and a quick bite to eat, we came back to the
hotel and went to hear the PMA pre-BEA seminar. I met Dan Poynter
(www.parapub.com) and the one-and-only Shel Horowitz (www.frugalfun.com). It
was good to seem both of them again and we had a good time catching up on old
times and kidding Shel about staying in the “roach hotel.” No matter how many
political differences I have with Shel, it is always good to see him as he is
always full of life, humor, and general good cheer. Shel really IS “chicken
soup” for the soul personified!
And it was good to see Dan as well. Looking more fit and trim than last year,
and far younger than his years, he entertained us with all sorts of book
humor. One of the highlights for anyone going to the PMA Publishing
University is seeing the Godfather of the small press. He showed us his new
“Older Cat” book which he published by using his own “new book model.” At
least he eats his own cat food! Dan’s a good guy who deserves all the success
he has received.
And talking about success I ran into Mary Westheimer, the founder of BookZone
(www.bookzone.com). Mary and I have had disagreements in the past, but the
past is history and she was just a cordial as could be. I was glad the
hatched was buried. Her service has grown from nothing to a million dollar
enterprise. If BookZone was running Microsoft’s Active Server Page software,
I’d use them, but they have standardized on Cold Fusion… not a bad choice
but not compatible with the scripts we already use on our website. However if
you don’t know what you don’t know about website marketing, BookZone would be
a good vendor to investigate. And you get Mary as well. Dan Poynter and
several thousand other publishers will tell you the same thing…. and so do
At the PMA reception that evening I had a long talk with Pat “The Voice of
Reason” Bell (www.catspawpress.com). It was good to catch up with my old
friend but I was saddened to learn that she had suffered a recent loss. As
usual, Pat and I debated the efficacy of PMA, she being one of the very
staunch defenders of the organization, the way it is run and the way its
leaders are anointed and later “coronated.” Pat’s a stubborn old cat and just
fails to understand that PMA should have more of a member-driven agenda than
a vendor-driven one…. and maybe if they let us vote for our own board and
officers that might occur. PMA is run by an old guard who don’t quite
understand what Dan calls “the new book model.” The PMA board and officers do
not understand that this is 2001 not 1991. How could they? The leadership has
been so in-bred for so many years that it would be fitting to have their
annual meeting in the Ozarks (where the law says that when you get divorced
you still remain brother and sister.)
The big buzz of the evening among those who were vendors was how the Hilton
had broken its contract with the PMA and that all of the meeting rooms were
changed such that the main exhibit hall was downstairs while the classes were
scattered upstairs and throughout the hotel. All of the vendors (who paid
$1000 per booth) were worried that no one would have time to visit them.
Indeed, that’s what happened.
I had set up the booth the night before, having to only open a box and place
a stack of PUB123 CDs on the table to hand out. The Book Princess (Mayapriya)
was sharing my booth (which was actually just a table with a skirt) and she
had an elaborate back-panel behind lots of postcard handouts and samples of
the books she had done. All in all, we looked just as good as the big-dog
vendors did. To bad it was all for naught. Attendees (about 500) came to have
the free continental breakfast and then scattered off to the class sessions
being held. And because they were upstairs from us, the students didn’t
bother to return to the main hall between sessions, as they did in previous
years. It was like a ghost-town with vendors milling around schmoozing with
each other…. and it was a rather expensive schmooze.
The best part of the morning was meeting Thea Lowry (www.manifoldpress.com).
I was blown away. I expected to find a frail, silver-haired, computer wimpy,
70 year old woman and instead was greeted by an in-your-face,
take-no-prisoners, flashy redhead who used to fly her own plane and who has
done more things in one lifetime than any ten people you might know.
At lunch, PMA had it’s usual annual meeting where the new board members were
approved by a voice vote, and there was no call for new business. PMA does
all of its business behind closed doors by people chosen in secret. But
that’s old news that I will re-visit another time. The after-lunch program
was the same as last year. There were three media people… all young and all
arrogant (especially the assistant to the assistant to the assistant producer
for the Jenny Jones (ugh!) show) who answered easy and obvious questions
posed to them by Steve Harrison of Radio/TV Interview Report. The lack of
content was only exceeded by the sheer length of the program, running right
up to the start of the afternoon classes…. so the attendees ran off without
stopping by any of our booths. In previous years, PMA cut off the program to
allow 20 minutes of “break time” for people to hit the bathrooms and then
wander around the exhibit hall. But not this year. We got stiffed. And we
were plenty mad about it too. Somehow I didn’t pay $1000 to trade friendly
barbs with Barbara Hawk of C&S Graphics next to me.
The afternoon dragged on and when it was over …. it was over. Very few came
back to the hall for the lemonade and cookies that PMA provided. There was
nothing we could do about it. I might have spoken to maybe twenty PUB123
prospects all day. The Book Princess can make up the cost of Pub-U with only
one new client. But I have to pitch a lot of people on the value of PUB123,
pass out a lot of demo CDs and hope they try and buy it in order to make the
gate. And it was obvious that I wasn’t going to do that.
I ran upstairs, freshened up a bit and then headed down Michigan Ave. to the
Best Western where the Pub-Forum list dinner was being held.
Upon arriving, I was saddened to learn that Mardi Link, the editor in chief
of ForeWord had fallen off of her horse, broken her shoulder and was not
coming to BEA. However, Alex Moore, the review editor took her place and it
was good to finally meet him.
The dinner conversation ran through all the usual topics. I tried to pin Alex
down on some issues concerning the ForeWord online reviews, but he
stonewalled any discussion on the topic saying he was out of that loop. I got
the feeling that there is some dissention in the ranks at FW about this new
program and that perhaps not everyone there is on the same page. It will be
interesting to see how this shakes out and if the Book Babes (Mardi and
Victoria Sutherland) can pull this trick off. The best weapon they have is
Eugene Schwartz and I hope they listen to his advice.
After dinner we were treated to a short comedy routine by Dan as well as a
poetry reading from Shel. It was great to put faces to list names and while I
would have liked to party with Sharon Goldinger who has a company called
PeopleSpeak, (www.detialsplease.com/peoplespeak) and others, I was just too
tired for bar hopping. I loved seeing “Wild Thing” Sharon again. She has a
new “moniker” in that she is calling herself the Book Shepherdess. I dubbed
her as “Little Bo Peep from PeopleSpeak” and created a verse about her and
her partner, Mary Ellen Gross:
I’m Little Bo Peep from PeopleSpeak
I’ll shepherd your book to fame
But if the book hits a rut
And then goes tits up
It’s Mary Ellen, not me, that’s to blame!
Sharon is a good sport. Everyone loves Sharon. And she is very, very good at
what she does. If you don’t believe me, ask her. She has the references to
I was up bright and early. Well not really. I hardly slept. Something
attacked me from the previous dinner and I felt like I had gone ten rounds
with Joe Fraizer… and lost! I felt really terrible. And I must have looked
it because everyone commented on how “gray” I was. As it was the day before,
it was like a morgue in the exhibit hall. People came down at the last minute
for breakfast and then split for the classes leaving the vendors to sit and
play solitaire (which I saw some doing!). I went back upstairs and took a
mid-morning nap hoping that whatever I had would get up and leave! And it
did. By lunchtime I was feeling much better.
When I came down, I had a chance to chat with Jerry Jenkins
(www.bookpublishing.com). Jerry is always fun, upbeat, and witty. He invited
me to a beer party with beer that was bottled especially for his company.
(Personally, I think he made it in the bathtub the night before, but from
what I heard, it was quite good.) Jerry is good for our industry. Yeah, he
may be a bit full of himself (and like I’m not?) but as Yogi said “If you can
do it, it’s not bragging.”) Jerry does it.
While the tables were being set, Mayapriya and I ran around and put 500
PUB123 CDs on the chairs. Yeah, the PMA folks don’t want vendors to do that,
but I was determined to somehow accomplish what I came to do… which was to
get the word out about PUB123. I wasn’t about to surrender a thousand dollars
to PMA and not distribute the disk. It wasn’t my fault that things were
screwed up and that attendees didn’t come to the vendor’s booths. So I
decided to take matters into my own hands and do what had to be done. I was
pleased that only about 50 of the CDs were left behind after the lunch ended.
At least I got “something” for my thousand dollar booth fee. And while the
lunch was terrible (some kind of rubber chicken) the keynote address by Greg
Godek was terrific.
This had to be the highlight of the Pub-U. Greg Godek
(http://www.1001waystoberomantic.com/home.html) is the consummate
professional speaker. He talked about how he became successful by thinking
“out of the box” and by breaking a lot of the rules, as well as by making a
lot of mistakes. I can’t remember when I’ve heard a better after-meal-speech.
And what was so special about him was that instead of hauling ass out of the
conference, he stuck around for three hours talking to those who came up to
him and wanted advice. He was there until there was no one else who wanted to
see him. I’m not into hero-worship and I’m pretty jaded about those who are
dubbed as “noted personalities” but Godek was 100% pure, 100% honest, and
100% sincere. If PMA has half a brain they will ask him back every year to
give the same speech… and pay him whatever he wants. I don’t know if there
is a tape of his speech available, but if there is one, you should get it. It
will change how you do business. While I’ve been preaching the same “out of
the box” theory for years, he did it with grace, style, humor, and class…
and a lot better than I could do it.
The afternoon was another ghost-town for the vendors, such that most of them
packed up at 3:30 PM and got the flock out of Dodge. I went upstairs to take
a quick nap, and to dress for the PMA Ben Franklin Awards dinner.
In the past, the Ben Franklin dinners were quite lavish. Well, again, the
past is history. This year the food was bad, and what was worse, there was
not enough to go around. They ran out of food rather quickly and dessert even
faster (i.e. I never got any.) I hope PMA takes this up with the Hilton when
they press for some kind of adjustment. There was no excuse for them to run
out of food. The place was set for some one thousand people, but only about
600 showed up so there should have been plenty for all. But like I say, it
was no big deal since the food was vile compared to previous years. When you
consider that PMA had some $30,000 to put on this party, I’d sure like to
know where the money went to because it wasn’t on the table, that’s for sure.
The award ceremony is always fun to watch. Since I know so many people in the
small press I was glad no matter who won. I was rooting for one book in
particular. I can’t remember who the author and publisher is, but there was
this husband/wife combo who had a book called “Tracon.” It won the ForeWord
Book of The Year award, as well as the Jenkins IPPY award. That’s like
winning the Derby and the Preakness. All they needed was a Ben F. for a clean
sweep. They were nominated but they didn’t win. However I spoke with them and
they were all excited that they had an agent who was going to get them a
small publisher to publish their book. Talk about people who don’t know what
they don’t know! The Book Princess and I told them that they had huge
credentials and that they would have no problem getting a New York publisher
to do their book. Disloyal? Not at all. Look, we in the small press are the
best at doing niche titles. No one does it better. But when it comes to
big-time novels, the New York folks have the bucks and the connections to
give a book a real kick in the ass to get it going. I hope these kids follow
our advice. I’m sure we will find out pretty soon.
The rest of the awards were predictable. Again the DK people won a number of
awards and didn’t bother to send anyone, even a flunky, to accept. What an
insult. And the IDG (Dummy books) people also won again. I’ve said over and
over again that PMA needs to overhaul the Ben Franklin Award criteria, but
there is little chance that Pat Bell and her PMA board are ever going to
listen. It’s all about money. It’s all about them. It’s not about us.
To me the highlight of the ceremony was when one winner was so excited that
he had his mother and his 84 year old grandmother up on the stage with him to
accept. I loved seeing the gratitude and excitement that the award brought to
him. His acceptance speech was in stark contrast to the large publishers who
didn’t send anyone.
After the awards were over, Sharon “Bo Peep” Goldinger, her partner Mary
Ellen, Mayapriya “Book Princess” Long, Peter Goodman, David Cole (author of
“The Complete Guide to Book Marketing”) and I sat in the hotel bar talking
about book stuff. Peep and the Princess played about the worst game of pool
I’ve ever seen while Peter flirted with Mary Ellen and I talked to David
about his son with the orange hair. It’s always nice to be with old friends.
I went to bed about midnight. I don’t know how many Tequila Sunrises Bo Peep
knocked back or if she and the Princess stayed up all night playing pool. I
hope Peep got lucky. The Princess is too married too even entertain the
thought! But if she were single she would have her pick of the house, I’m
I’m up bright and early, ready for the first day of BEA. I ran down the hall,
pounded on the Book Princess’s door and enlisted her to help me transport 700
CDs down to McCormick which I give out to anyone who will take one. It must
have been a late night for the Princess as she was not jumping for joy to see
me. But when I said “free breakfast” she immediately perked up. She’s not one
to miss a free calorie. We took a cab down to the exhibit hall, picked up our
passes (I had a press pass since, believe it or not, this Rant is known far
and wide in the industry such that I’m considered “media.”) and we went our
own way. I always do the small press section first.
It was like “desolation row” on the far side of the hall where they hide the
small press. Yet it was early and their spirits were high. The first few
hours of BEA is like spring training where everyone feels they can win the
pennant and World Series. That’s why I like to go there first. Being somewhat
of an expert on how to “do” a trade show, I gave out lots of “pointers” to
the newbies on what to do, what to say, etc.
A lot of people felt “sorry” for the micro-press exhibitors, I was not one of
them. The booths only cost $600 and one never knows when lightening will
strike. While I think it is a better investment to buy space in the PMA area,
that cost is close to $2500 and for many, the small press area is the best
they can do. What disappointed me was that there was the usual array of diet
books, self-help/disease books, and poorly done kid books. Indeed, there was
only one non-fiction book that stood out in my mind in the small press
section, and that was an expensive full-color book on how to run a catering
Small press people do some dumb things. Without a doubt the best button given
out at the show said “More Bad News.” Everyone stopped me asking me where I
got it. I couldn’t remember. I later found out it was from a one-book guy
(Terry Cawley) who had a novel by the same name. How stupid. He had a great
button and failed to put his name, website or anything else on it. Dumb,
dumber, and dumbest!
There were the usual “my story” novels that will go nowhere. The worst was
“Tales From Crotch Lake.” Yeah, that’s the real title… and is a poor reason
to kill a tree over. Fortunately it’s done by a POD house called Trafford
Publishing so I doubt too many saplings will be murdered for this trash.
As usual, Leigh Davidson (www.goodvibes.com) from Down There Press (and you
females KNOW where “down there” is) was in the small press section. Leigh is
the consummate professional publisher. She sells women’s erotica as well as
several other related lines. She bought a new audio line called Passion Press
and has a catalog of “girl toy” equipment. I believe I’m about the equivalent
of a “Butch.” Those who have the catalog will know what I’m talking about.
(Yes, size DOES matter!:-)) I love seeing Leigh each year.
The big buzz in the small press was naturally Ingram’s announcement that they
were going to toss our ass out the door. For those of us who have been around
for a while, this was not a big deal. In the old days you couldn’t get an
account with Ingram unless you had large demand for your products (and were
willing to assume the Lewinski position!) Ingram is doing what is best for
Ingram. While the small presses were scared to death, I told them what Dan
Poynter told me twenty years ago in his first book… “bookstores are
terrible places to sell books.” Everyone is taking this new policy to be the
death-knell of the small press. No way. It just means we will have to work a
lot harder and find other avenues to get our products to market. It can be
done, and the Internet will make it possible. Just sit tight and see what
happens. I hope I helped calm some fears. If I didn’t, I’m sure Dan did, as I
know that he always visits the outposts of McCormick where the small press is
Moving over a few rows, I ran into Janet Hardy of Greenery Press
(www.greenerypress.com). Janet specializes in S&M, gender changing, and all
sorts of “out there” sexual subjects. I asked her to have lunch with me so
that I could learn more about her side of the business. And would you believe
that in a hall the size of New Mexico, with 20,000 people, the Book Princess
was able to seek me out and attain the prize of yet another free lunch. It’s
true. So the three of us talked about the sex-niche. What made it interesting
is that Janet has DONE all the things that she writes about or publishers. If
you need a whip or need to learn how to give a spanking, she is the one you
want to meet up with. And I think she offered up one of the funniest lines I
heard at the show. I told her that it was every Jewish boy’s dream to get
into the sack with tall, blonde, big-chested, Las Vegas showgirl type. I told
her “There weren’t any Jewish, blonde, show girls.” She said “Sure there are,
but when you knew them they were men!” Only at BEA could I have lunch with
someone like Janet. She was going to have a professional hooker at her booth
to sign a book called “Going Professional” on Saturday and I made a promise
to be there and meet her. I don’t know everything about the book biz, but
this I can tell you. Dicks, tits, pussy, and raw sex still sell… and sell
better than you would ever believe.
As I moved over to the mid-size press, I noticed that those who where in the
high-priced center of the hall in previous years had moved to cheaper digs
this year. The biggest surprise was O’Reilly Press. These folks do computer
books and make a zillion dollars doing it. But business must be off since
they were way in the back of the hall. Or perhaps it’s because their sales
people are probably the dumbest on the planet. Get this. As many of you know,
I make more than a few bucks reviewing technical books as well as selling
content to some of the large technical magazines. I wanted to find a good XML
book to review (if you don’t know what XML is, no matter. It’s a hot topic in
the nerd-book arena.) I saw one that O’Reilly had on the shelf and asked if I
could get a beat-up, hurt copy. The booth-chick said “no.” Now how stupid can
anyone be? When someone with press credentials asks for a specific book you
give them one. End of story. What could the book cost to print? Maybe three
bucks? And I could give them $10,000 worth of publicity. But she acted as if
she would have to take off her bra and panties to give up a book. I don’t
know how Tim O’Reilly is training his people, but someone in his organization
is unclear on the concept.
The upshot of the deal is that I found a brand new publisher called Apress
that had some tech books that will make good reviews for me to sell and that
will give O’Reilly a run for their money. Apress couldn’t wait to give me any
(and every!) book on the shelf. I guess O’Reilly is so big and so successful
they don’t need anyone to review their books. But if that was so, why were
they in the cheap section of the hall? Something is going on with them, but I
don’t know what. I guess business is off for them with the slowdown of
computer sales and the bust of the dot com companies. The Apress (which
stands for Author’s Press… www.apress.com) people were so nice. I’m going
to bend over backwards to see what I can do to help them out. I hope Tim
O’Reilly sees this…. and maybe kicks some butt!
I know what publisher had this year’s Book Bitch! Nolo Press. I stopped into
their booth, which was way smaller this year than last. I asked one of the
booth women who acted as if she were in charge (as she was noticeably older
than the “girls” standing around her) if I could return some software
(WillMaker) that I had NEVER opened, and get the upgrade. She gave me the
coldest look I’d seen in a long time and said in an icy tone “Absolutely
not.” And then she proceeded to lecture me about their return policy with
respect to software. Now I must have purchased several thousand dollars of
their books over the years, given them great reviews, have mentioned them in
the Rant and have met Ralph Warner (founder of Nolo) several times (most
recently at a BAIPA meeting.) Now all the woman had to do was smile and say
“Why don’t you contact me by e-mail next week, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Oh, but not the Book Bitch. This was her time to look “tough” in front of the
“kids” and that she did. I was so pissed off I turned on my heel, walked out
without a word and vowed to never buy anything from them again, and to tell
everyone I know to do the same. A life lesson. If you are going to piss
someone off, it shouldn’t be someone from the media. There is no upside to
it. Over 5,000 publishers will read this, some of them have friends (I
think!) and will repeat the story. If you want to be an asshole, fine. But
don’t be one in your booth, to customers, or to the press. Bookselling 101!!!
It was good to see Victoria Sutherland, publisher of ForeWord Magazine
(www.forewordmagazine.com). Victoria and her partner, Mardi Link were dubbed
(by me) as the Book Babes of the industry… a term they both deserve. And of
course she looked like a million dollars in her low cut, form fitting
designer dress. In a hall where most of the people were out of shape and had
faces like thirty miles of bad road, Victoria stood out like a super model. I
didn’t get to talk to her for too long, but she told me that on the first day
they had reached 20% of their goal in signing up publishers for their new
pay-per-review program. ForeWord has everything going for it. They are a
class act, have huge legitimacy in the biz, and they know what they are
doing. If anyone can pull this off, the head Book Babe can do it.
As the show closed for the day, I met Mayapriya (The Book Princess) and
Sharon Goldinger (Book Shepherdess – Bo Peep) at the PMA booth and we decided
to all go out for dinner. We ran into Cate Monroe and her husband Bob
Holtzman of Moon Mountain (www.moonmountainpub.com) and they decided to join
us. We ended up at a small Chinese place near the hotel and had a good dinner
full of interesting book talk, friendly barbs, and, of course, with me
picking up the check for the Princess, who set a new world’s record for the
Powder Room dash as soon as the check came.
After dinner we all decided to take a walk. Now if you know Sharon… well
let’s just say that she “tells it like it is” and holds nothing back. We
walked over to Grant Park to see the fountains. We came upon a dinky little
one and were disappointed. Sharon knew there was another one in the park and
shouted out, so as to be heard in St. Louis, “I want the big one!!!!” A
policeman (and who knows what he was thinking, but Sharon thought he was
cute!) ran over to us and told us where to find Buckingham Fountain. No one
disagreed that this was not the first time that Sharon had used that
particular phrase and no one disagreed that she usually got what she wanted!!
We walked a bit farther and there was easily the largest hydro-phallic symbol
I had ever seen. Those who have seen this 50 foot erection of water know what
I’m talking about. While the women stood there with dreamy looks on their
faces, Bob and I realized this was a no-win situation and we could not wait
to get away. I’ll never again be able to go to Chicago and not think of that
fountain as Sharon’s “big one.”
Returning to the hotel, Mayapriya and I went to the bar where we met David
Cole. He was leaving the next day so he hit the hard stuff while the Princess
and I had a Shirley Temple “nightcap” and packed it in for the night. While
the Princess does not drink at all (ever), as much as I wanted the strong
stuff, I knew it would be a long day and in the morning I didn’t want to
fight the revenge of Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s or any of their friends!
I slept like a bear in winter. At o’dark thirty I got a wake-up call from the
Book Princess… who wanted breakfast. I told her the kitchen was not open
yet and to see if she could find Dan Poynter to hit up for some free toast
When I got to the BEA, I saw Jan Nathan at the PMA booth. She told me a
terribly sad story. It seems one of the reps from McNaughton & Gunn had
dinner on Friday, walked out of the restaurant and collapsed. She was rushed
to the hospital, where she later died. She was only 38 years old. Since
everyone in the small press knows M&G, we were all saddened for their (and
our) loss. They are a wonderful printer with great people and I know they
must all be devastated.
I spent the morning in the e-publishing and POD area. There were far fewer
exhibitors than last year, which is a testament to the dot com fallout as
well as the fact that there is still not an acceptable business model that is
a win-win for publisher, author, and buyer. While no one doubts that e-books
are the future, it’s obvious that the future is NOT now. The Adobe in-booth
seminars were well attended (they gave away a really good tote bag) but there
was not a lot of action at the Microsoft booth. And Ingram did not set up
their Lightening Press exhibit this year, as they had in years past. There
was not a lot of action in this part of the hall and there was hardly any
buzz about e-books, POD, or anything having to do with technology.
I was impressed with the Franklin eBookMan handheld “reader”
(http://www.franklin.com/ebookman). If they can get the price down to under
$50 (currently the cheapest model is $129) it might have a chance. However,
they use a proprietary format, they want developers to pay for the
development machine and software, and their website is very sparse on
information on how publishers can convert their files to the format. One good
point in their favor is that they plan to use Microsoft Reader format in the
near future. I think this machine is a good start but it needs to have a
larger screen, perhaps be solar powered (like calculators are) and be so
cheap that people will have one in every room of the house, in their
briefcase, and their car. It’s coming.
After finishing with the e-book booths I went to seek out the competitors to
our PUB123 software (www.adams-blake.com). For the first year I did not see
the Acumen people. If they were there, they were well hidden. I was sorry to
miss them as they send me a lot of business. I did see the Cat people. They
have a good system, but their software is still a DOS port to windows and is
rather difficult to use, at least for the beginner. I love them because of
it. Many, many, many of our users are people who gave up throwing money down
the “cat hole” and have come over to us. While we obviously don’t do
everything their $5,000 system does, for $199 you get a hell of a lot of what
they do… and we do it a hell of a lot better (in my humble opinion!!)
I saw a number of systems targeted at the retailer. There was one excellent
system designed for the used bookstore. While indie stores are going tits-up
all over the nation, there seems to be a resurgence of used book stores. And
why not. They can buy a book for $2.00 and sell it for $6.00. That’s a hell
of a better margin than anyone gets on new books. Maybe publishers should be
producing “used” books for this market? Think about it.
I met the Book Princess for lunch and a miraculous thing happened. We went
downstairs to Connie’s Pizza, and she paid for lunch. Why? Because there was
no check. We stood on line and when it came time to pay I said to the cashier
“We’re together and she’s paying!” I walked away. The Princess couldn’t get
out of it. I should have thought about this strategy long ago!
I spent the afternoon wandering around the booths of the large publishers.
Wearing a press badge made it easy for me to get info that I can use in
future articles and Rants. The bottom line is that business is not all that
good. The large houses cut back on the number of people they sent to BEA, on
the amount of space they took, and they are not optimistic on the near-term
future of the industry. I didn’t see all that many “front list” books. Many
of the publishers were showing books from last year. All of them complained
about the returns problem and I hear that finally there is some movement on
the issue. Perhaps this will be the year we see a few of the large houses
stand up and say “No mas!” All it will take is for several AAP members to
come out with a no-returns-accepted policy and the business will turn on a
dime! I know it’s going to happen, I just don’t know when. Perhaps as Ingram
closes more and more warehouses and the beat-up, hurt, bent, and tattered
books come streaming back, some bean-counter will look at the bottom line and
say “This is nuts… we have to make some changes here.”
One of the most interesting things I found was that Amazon did not have a
large booth front and center as they did last year. It had a tiny one-man
booth way in the back. What does that tell you? And I found that a lot of
houses that had their own booths in previous years were now taking smaller
and cheaper spaces bought by their distributor.
I was impressed with how the Words people (a division of Bookpeople) did
their section. They made it possible for their publishers to buy a third of a
booth. They erected these cute little podiums where each publisher could
stack one or two titles, stand behind it, and still look very professional.
It was a great concept, one that maybe the PMA ought to borrow and use in
some of the space that they take.
The big news on the small press distributor front was two-fold. First IPG has
grown into a mega-distributor now having some 400 publishers in their stable.
While I’m not a big fan of the distributor model, IPG does a good job…. not
as good a job as Eric and Gail at Midpoint, but a good job on the whole.
The other news was related to the Ingram announcement that publishers with
under 10 titles would have to find a distributor. Many of the distribution
companies were licking their chops in anticipation. Jan Nathan, Executive
Director of the PMA told me on the record that she was afraid that the Ingram
policy would (again) breed a group of distributors who took on small press
titles with lots of up-front fees but would do little if anything to move the
titles. Before Ingram opened their doors to the small press, there were a
number of these sleaze-ball distributors, but in the past five years most
have gone out of business. They may be back.
I had a long talk with Gail Kump at Midpoint. Some of you may know the
“spotted history” of the owner, Eric Kaampman. Well, if there is such a thing
as total redemption, Eric is it. He and Gail run what I think is the best
distribution house in the industry. They are honest, they are up-front, they
are nice, they are smart… they are everything you would want in a
distribution company. If anyone in this business deserves success it is Eric
and Gail and the rest of the people at Midpoint. Eric is an example of a man
who is doing well by doing good. There was a time, years ago when I would be
reluctant to shake his hand. Now I would stand at the top of the Empire State
Building and sing his praises. People CAN change. If you want a distributor,
these folks should be first on your list to seek out.
I walked over to the BookSense exhibit. This is ABA’s answer to Amazon for
their independent bookstore members. After speaking to their Marketing
Director, Michael Hoynes, I was more convinced than ever that this dog won’t
hunt. There is just no compelling reason for people to visit this site as
opposed to Amazon. There is no USP (Unique Selling Proposition) that
BookSense (http://www.bookweb.org/booksense/dotcom/4173.html) has. The fees
and financials look like a good deal for the ABA and perhaps for some of
their members, but there is no “there, there” for the book buyer who can get
better selection and better service from amazon.com or bn.com. I wish ABA
luck with this concept, but I think it will take a lot more than my good
wishes to pull this off.
Late in the afternoon I ran into a dear friend, Cindy Frank of Cypress House
(www.cypresshouse.com). I like to say that “I knew her when…” Cindy has
grown her business into multi-faceted operation and is one of the few people
I know who makes “serious” dollars in this business. She is an expert in
selling rights and if I had a trade book to be published she is one of two
people I’d give it to. (The other is Peter Goodman of Stone Bridge
(http://www.stonebridge.com).) I invited her to join several of us for
dinner, but she had tickets to see Winton Marcellus with some business
associates. I can’t imagine why she would choose Winton over me. 🙂
Alister Taylor of Torchlight Publishing (www.torchlight.com) is an old, old
friend of the Book Princess and the past few years the three of us have
established a “tradition” of going to dinner together where we discuss
various tenants of Hindu philosophy, since Alister publishes books on the
topic. We have great debates about the Bhagavad-Gita (he has a new
edition/translation of this out and it is simply super! If you have never
read it, you should. It is short, easy, and full of meaning for today’s
world.) Thea Lowry decided to also join us and we went to funky place way up
on Halstad Avenue. Alister is a case study in how to publish to a small niche
market and make good money doing it.
I had planned to hit some of the parties but I was so dog-tired that when I
got back to the hotel around 10, I was just not in the mood. I was all
“book-talked” out. I looked around the hotel for some of the old hands, but
none were to be found. I later learned that many folks, in order to save
money, took a red eye flight home. That tells you something about the state
of the industry. When people won’t stay for the parties, there is something
bad going on.
I got an early start on Sunday since the show closed at 4 PM. On the final
day I always tour the sideline booths, the music CD vendors, the kid-books
section, and the associations, There were fewer of each this year. Finally, I
wrap up the day by re-visiting the small press people asking for their
opinions of the show.
The CD vendors had the same boring “theme-classical” music as in previous
years. Maybe this stuff sells, but I’m not sure exactly to whom. There’s Bach
with Bagels, Bach for Brunch, and I suppose that there will be Bach with
ExLax! And there is Late Night Jazz, Early Morning Jazz, and somewhere there
is Root Canal Jazz. Give me a break!
The only imaginative kiddy book I found was Morgan The Dog
(www.morganthedog.com). These folks hit upon a good and simple idea that they
can build on. A little girl finds an abused dog at the animal shelter and
they become a pair-bond travelling the country together. The schtick to this
book is that the publisher is giving some profits to the animal shelters in
the country and is promoting “be kind to animals.” The media will eat it up.
What really works is that they have first class art as well as a line of
“Morgan” products…. shirts, hats, etc. This is a husband and wife team who
don’t know what they don’t know. I talked to them for some length and
persuaded them to contact Jan Nathan at the PMA. I may rag on the PMA but
when it comes to helping newbies NOT screw up, Jan and her group are quite
good at it. If the Morgan The Dog people don’t screw it up, they have a great
And how do I know? Because last year’s “dog trick” was Jazz The Dream Dog
(www.dreamdog.com). At the 2000 BEA they had one book. This year they are
back with a complete line of stuff, videos, audio, clothes and other stuff.
You can’t miss with animals. You just can’t.
But the problem with kid stuff is that the economics are against you. The
products have to be good and cheap. It’s hard to do. You have to print
offshore and in large quantities to get a low unit cost. While you don’t have
to “create” demand (all parents want to buy books for their kids) you DO have
to convince people to buy YOUR book. Personally, I think kid books should be
left to the companies who have deep pockets, but it seems to be a passion for
some small(er) publishers to try to make it in this market. And it can be
done, but you have to do virtually everything right… and have the right
product at the right time. A tie-in with McDonalds or Disney does not hurt,
As for sidelines, one nice thing I saw was a terrific looking laptop “desk.”
This was a flat piece of teak wood with a leather bean-bag attached to the
underside. It was perfect for working in bed or while sitting in your easy
chair. I’ve seen these before, but this was upscale and cost around $50. It
should sell well. I lost the handout they gave me and I wish I could remember
who made them so I could buy one.
I was also taken with a high tech book holder called The BookGem
(www.bookgem.com). This $19.95 thing has springs and things such that it
holds the book from the top or the bottom and you can easily turn the pages
while the book is in the holder. It will be great for cookbook users as well
as those who need to have a book propped open when using a computer. It’s
really neat and will make a great gift.
Finally, my favorite item was a book mark woven to resemble an oriental rug.
These come out of Turkey, retail for about $4 and are drop-dead beautiful. I
wish I had the distribution rights to these. The only info I have is the
company name: TJ Int’l email@example.com Ph: 530-795-5137.
I made the rounds to the associations. The big news (to me anyway) is that
the Rocky Mountain Book Publishers Association changed their name to
Publishers Association of the West (www.pubisherswest.org). This was long
overdue since most of their members were NOT located in the mountain states.
I need to do some thinking on just how viable regional publishing
associations are vs. the “national” PMA and local city chapters. PAW is
having a large trade show and conference on Nov 8-10 in Snowbird, Utah so for
those who did not attend PMA-U, perhaps this might be a good substitute.
I also stopped at the Publishers Association of the South booth
(www.pubsouth.org) and learned about their annual trade show with Southeast
Booksellers Association on Sept 21-23 in Memphis. PAS has a excellent
The problem with both of these regional groups is that the dues are rather
steep… $200 for PAS and $150 for PubWest. I’m not convinced that they are
cost effective for the average publisher, but I’m willing to be convinced. I
think what I’d rather see is a strong “national” PMA that sees itself as a
leader of the industry (instead of the wimp that it currently is) along with
regional and local chapters. But that’s another issue for another day.
I took another stroll around the small press booths. Most everyone I spoke
said that they got their money’s worth from the BEA. While not many made much
if any money, they were happy with the contacts they made and for the
opportunity to meet the press members, talk with other publishers, and just
“feel” as it they were really a part of the publishing business. Not a bad
return for $600 plus travel costs. Of course, the proof of the pudding is to
see how many come back next year!
By around 2:30 PM the aisles were almost empty. Those who were left were
going around to various booths trying to “score” free books they could give
as Christmas gifts. I saw one book I would have killed for. It was the
“Holocaust Chronicle” (www.holocaustchronicle.org). I practically got on my
knees and begged, but they wouldn’t give me a copy… even one that was beat
all to hell. My wife is a Holocaust scholar and would have enjoyed (if that’s
the right word) seeing it… and would have reviewed it for “Reform Judaism”
or similar magazine. It was probably just as well as the book weighed a ton!
By 3 PM people were tearing down their booths hoping to get out early and
beat the rush. That’s what I did. The Book Princess, who is a devout follower
of Krishna Consciousness invited me attend their weekly Sunday evening
service and feast. She looked very fetching in her sari and had arranged for
someone to pick us up and drive us out there. If you have never been to a
Krishna temple on Sunday night, you should go. The first half hour is singing
and chanting. The place rocks… not unlike a Black Baptist or a
Fundamentalist Christian service. I loved it. We skipped out early from the
sermon (which is probably still going on!) and attended the feast. I usually
hate vegetarian food, but these folks really know how to turn ordinary
veggies into a full meal deal. I’m fond of saying that the food in Chicago
could gag a goat. Well, as far as I’m concerned the best meal to be had in
the city is at the Krishna Temple on Sunday night. And you can’t beat the
price. Free. When you go to something like this, you really appreciate what
America is all about. These people are way off the typical Judeo Christian
radar. All they want is to be left alone to worship the way they wish. This
is what good men and women have died for in the wars we have fought and in
the struggle for civil rights. There are a lot of things wrong with America,
but the one thing we got right is the grant of freedom to pray as one
pleases. It’s not that way in China, Iran, or most of the rest of the world.
So now that I’ve written 8,516 words on the BEA, let me wrap it up with a few
thoughts, in no particular order.
The book industry is in trouble, but it is actually “good” trouble. There are
going to be some “pull backs” and some mergers. The industry is finally
realizing that there is a serious oversupply problem and I believe we will
see fewer books published in the next few years.
E-Books are not going to be a factor until three things happen. First, there
needs to be a rugged, low-power, well-lit, easy to use, and cheap (like $59)
handheld reader that people “enjoy” using. Second, there has to be one or two
standard formats for text, graphics, files, etc. Third, there has to be a
hard-to-crack security system developed in conjunction with the willingness
of the international community to outlaw and prosecute content thieves.
BEA will be smaller next year because New York will cost everyone 50% more to
attend. I think there will be a “backlash” such that BEA will try holding the
show in a second tier (i.e. cheaper) convention city such as Dallas, Las
Vegas, or Miami.
While the Internet will help to level the playing field for small publishers,
the freeze-out from Ingram is going to hurt some non-fiction publishers, and
devastate many fiction and literary houses. The bottom line is that getting
into the retail channel will mean a 68% “hit” by distributors instead of the
55% taken by Ingram. Many small publishers will lose money on every sale and
make it up on volume!
However, this is not the end of the world for publishers who have something
unique, something they can create demand for, and for publishers who know how
to think out of the box, who are daring, and who are willing to break a few
eggs to make an omelet.
The Book Princess will find a way to not only avoid paying for lunch, but she
will be developing methods to avoid paying for dinner as well.
Unless PMA can develop programs and value-added for experienced and mid-size
publishers, it’s growth will be limited and it’s membership will actually
begin to decline.
There will be more and more entrants into the small publishing ranks as
e-books grow into a viable option. It may get to the point where every author
is a publisher and it will be difficult for us to obtain manuscripts unless
we can bring more “goodies” to the table to persuade authors to NOT
self-publish their own works.
I expect to see some of the larger houses go bust once their corporate
parents take a good look at the ledgers.
Even with the Ingram “thing” there has never been a better time for the small
publisher who has a title that is new, imaginative, or which fills a niche
that no one has addressed. Along with the Internet, there are resources
available to us that did not exist ten years ago… highly professional
publicists, consultants, designers, printers, software, etc. The right book
at the right time with the right marketing can make a lot of money. It used
to be that doing all the “other” stuff right was the key to success… no
matter what book you had. In the next year or so, it will be harder and
harder to publish the “average” self-help book, diet book, kid book etc. The
premium will be on creativity and imagination. With the Internet and easy
access to the media, the market will seek out and reward the title that is
new, different, and sexy. People are bored with books. The world is awash
with books. They want something new, something that will “move” them,
something that will really be worth the time it takes to read (and that time
is getting less and less.)
While there are going to be some dislocations ahead, I think this is a good
time to be in publishing so long as you know what you are doing, understand
the risks, and most of all, understand that what sold well in the past, is
not going to sell as well in the future. New, different, enlightening,
creative, interesting, kicky, kinky, and maybe even (if you can imagine it)
thought-provoking are the kind of titles that have the best chance of selling
through in the next year or two.
It will be interesting to see how may of the above words I have to eat this
time next year!
Alan N. Canton
Hate Quickbooks? If you are in publishing or general business, you must see
PUB123 or SOHO-123 (Small Office/Home Office), the newest and most affordable
back-office software systems available. http://www.adams-blake.com
[Copyright 2001 by Alan N. Canton. This material may NOT be re-published on
or in any media, either print or electronic, without prior permission from
the copyright holder.]