How to Be at BEA
Do you remember I once publicly debated Mardi Link (past editor of Independent Publisher
Magazine and now editor of ForePlay [oops, I mean Word… you see where MY
mind is…. "the gutter’s were you came from and the gutter’s where you
belong"… quick…what movie is that line from and who said it????]
Magazine) to find me just five small publishers who recouped their entire
outlay for exhibiting OR just attending the big LA/NY/Chicago show?
I have never heard from any publisher who would go on record saying that they got
"their money’s worth" from attendance. And I believe that with the mindset
of "selling books," when small publishers count their pennies a year from
now, all will see that it was not profitable in dollars and cents.
So why am I going? I’m NOT going to SELL, I’m going to BUY. And if you have
half a brain, you will do the same thing.
Forget about selling your books.
First of all, everyone and their dog are trying to sell their books, either
to the retail/distribution channel or the media. And when it comes to
selling, it is pretty difficult to out-muscle the bigger houses that have
hoards of well-trained, well-contacted sales people as well as tons of
heavy-duty, high-skilled, in-house publicity talent.
Second of all, there is no one to sell to. There are no ("we don’t need no
stinkin”) blue badges anymore. There are damn few bookstores who send
"buying" representatives to the floor. Hell, there are damn few independent
bookstores in the first place. Any publisher looking to sell their books or
even to make good contacts to sell later on is probably going to be
disappointed. Oh, yes, you are going to make lots of contacts and meet lots
of people who are going to tell you all sorts of things about what they will
do for you. But when you call them a week later, they won’t know you from
the last guy who they just got off the phone with.
So what is BEA good for? Two things.
First, it is a celebration of ego. We put the fruits of our long hard labors
on the table and say "Look at me, aren’t I great?" And we say "Wow, your
books are great too." We both say, "Gee, we’re lucky to be able to be in
this industry where we can do great work." BEA, unlike many trade shows
where the emphasis is on sales, is really an affirmation of faith, a chance
to escape the confines of the spin-doctors, and get some feedback from
colleagues and peers on your products. And it is a great excuse to let down
you hair (and skirt/pants?) and have a party. And all of the above is good.
I’d worry big-time about our industry if there weren’t a well attended BEA.
It’s a chance to spend some of those profits and have a good time.
Second, BEA is a chance to learn. If you exhibit you will find out in short
order if your wares are "interesting" or if they are just "run of the mill."
You will have the opportunity to hob-nob with publishers and vendors of all
stripes. And you will get an opportunity to attend seminars (PMA-U, AAP,
etc.) and learn the elements of the business that you might be weak on. And
this is all good.
But BEA is not for "selling". It is for "buying". I don’t expect to sell one
book from BEA and if you go with the idea that you are going to come home
with either a stack of orders or a ton of business cards from potential
buyers, you are going to be heartbroken.
You need to find reasons other than sales for the BEA to be a meaningful
event for you. Whether it’s the parties, the seminars, or the chance to see
what others are doing, you should come up with one or two things you want to
accomplish and pursue them. I don’t mean something like "I’m going to get a
distributor." You’d be better advised to set you sights to "I’m going to
learn about and make contact with three or four distributors I can approach
later." Or "Each day of the show I’m going to make five media contacts in my
genre whom I can approach later on a first name basis." Or "I’m going to
have a three day party, drink Dan under the table, and swim naked in Lake
Huron or Erie. (I know there is SOME lake out there. I’m from New York and
CA. To me, Chicago is outside of Denver, somewhere in the Gobi Dessert.:-))
Plan your "go" and go with your plan.
So you ask, what is MY plan?
My plan is to discover titles already published by other houses that might
be willing to sell me non-exclusive rights to content that I can take and
make software out of. For example, I’d like to find a title like "The
Complete Guide to Setting Up the Semiconductor Quality Control Department"
so that I could use it as the basic specifications to write a QC
data-collection and analysis program for the semiconductor industry (which
has huge bucks to spend of stuff like this). Here’s another. I wrote a
software program called Laser Eyes for eye surgeons who can use it to track
the "cure rate" of their victims (oops, I mean patients) that have the laser
procedure. Perhaps I can find a book on another medical application where I
can use the same "software engine" for a new product. Thus I’m looking to
"buy" books that I can "computerize" and make into some kind of an
interactive media that I can sell to the corporate or government markets for
obscene profits (which is part of our mission statement…see our web
site.). Thus, I’m going to "buy" not to sell.
Of course, if you are also a vendor to the industry like me, Dan Poynter,
Shel Horowitz, Mayapriya Long (all of whom are both publishers AND vendors),
it might not hurt to pass out a flyer or a business card at selected booths.
Indeed, I think that the only people who can really "sell" are the vendors.
Publishers, I believe, have to be content to "buy." It is kind of ironic
isn’t it? Here is this huge trade show with 1000 publishers and yet they are
now all selling to basically 10 or 20 customers: B&N, Borders, Tower,
Amazon, Books-a-Million, Wall-Mart, Costco, a few distributors, and the last
small group of indie bookstores stores left who send buyers (Cody’s,
Tattered Cover, Powells, etc).
So here are my parting words to those of you going to Chicago. Read the next
paragraph three times until you understand it! It is one of the best I have
ever written. Print it and paste it on your mirror and read it every day
until you arrive in city of big shoulders (who first said that about
Chicago… Lincon Steffens?).
When you go to BEA ask not what you can sell TO it, but ask what you can
take FROM it. Approach the show from the 20,000 foot level, looking to get a
broad overview of where the industry is going, what others are making money
at, how others have found niches to sell into. Go to learn what the
technology will do to change things… and try to find out if there is a way
you can use all this knowledge to better your competitive position. Don’t go
to sell books. What did I just say? Again, don’t go to sell books! Go there
to buy ideas. Don’t go to make something happen. Go there to understand what
will happen. Don’t go there to sell your products or ideas, but go there to
buy the ideas of others. You have this wonderful chance to see, touch, ask,
learn, question, and network. And while you may seek one or two specific
goals, don’t be surprised if the compendium of information you glean from
BEA coalesces into a terrific business idea that you can pursue in the near
future. If you go to BEA with a buyers attitude, you will more than make up
the money you spent being there.
And while we’re talking about buying, it is true that buying a drink or a
lunch or a cab ride for someone who works hard each week in writing gems of
wisdom that he shares with you via his Rants, is always a worthwhile
By the way, I have it from a very, very well placed source you all know and
admire (think parachutes) that it would NOT be a good idea, when Mardi Link
and Victoria Sutherland are introduced at the ForeWord Book Awards, to start
a chant of "Take it off, Take it off" unless you want to see a cabernet
bottle hurled at you faster than a Dwight Gooden curve ball. And I wouldn’t
make any references to mud wrestling either.
And make sure you walk up to me and say hello. I don’t bite. But you guys
better be careful of Mayapriya Long of Bookwrights. The
woman is a black belt in Aikido and can turn you from a rooster into a hen
before you can figure out how to say her name. However, if you mention
“how about I buy you lunch,” she becomes a pussycat.
I’m looking forward to seeing many of you and I hope that the above will
serve as food for thought.
Alan N. Canton
If you are in the publishing business, you must see JAYA123, the newest and
most affordable back-office web-based system available. You can find it on