Should BEA be more like SDCC?

>> Friday, August 7, 2009

At a time when publishing industry trade shows are struggling, San Diego Comic-Con is bursting at the seams. In recent years, the San Diego Fire Marshall's office has had to cap attendance at 125,000, making every show a sell-out and turning fans away at the door.

San Diego Comic-Con began like most comic book conventions--as a place for fans to meet creators, and buy and sell back issues. What it's become, of course, is something very different: a pop culture media extravaganza. SDCC is now the place fans come to hear buzz about new movies and television shows and meet celebrities, and it's where Hollywood comes looking for new ideas to feed the movie-making machine. Oh--and comic books and prose books are also still major players. The convention's location and focus have created the perfect storm, launching SDCC into the stars as THE premier venue for media industry fans and professionals.

The question Publisher's Weekly asks is, "Is San Diego Comic-Con what BEA and other publishing trade shows should aspire to?"

I think it's a valid question. The problem right now is that SDCC and events like BEA are different creatures. BEA is an industry trade show open ONLY to booksellers, publishers, and authors. No fans allowed. But why not? Why not turn BEA into a media circus like SDCC? Wouldn't the whole industry benefit? And wouldn't readers begin to flock to conventions like this to hear about new releases? It would be a great way to generate buzz--and preorders.

One of the best quotes in the article comes from Lance Fensterman, V-P of pop culture at Reed Exhibitions, and the show manager of New York Comic-Con and BEA. (Who was at SDCC.) He pointed out the difference between SDCC--"megaphones of publicity, giant platforms to preach to the converted to create a pyramid scheme of publicity as each of those hardcore fans blog, podcast, and talk about all that they saw and heard"--and BEA--"exclusive and very inside out." But pyramid scheme comparisons aside, isn't residual buzz about your product what you WANT to come out of a convention? Fensterman at least agreed that “trade events need to find the megaphone, the pyramid scheme, the media hook that will get the spotlight shined on them.”

Amen to that. One of the things I talk to parents and teachers about on school visits is that we have to stop blaming other media for any declines in reading. If we're going to compare books to other media like MP3 players, video games, movies, and television, we have to start treating them the same way. We have to MAKE books into something as exciting--and as easily accessible--as electronic media. So why NOT make BEA into a loud, flashing, costumed, fan/industry event? (I have my Boo Radley costume all ready to go.) Seriously, business can still get done while camera crews walk the aisles as they do at SDCC, this time asking people not what new movie they're excited about, but what new BOOKS they're excited about.

Also, "V-P of Pop Culture"? Where the heck do I apply for THAT job!?


Wendi August 7, 2009 at 11:34 AM  

I'd add, as a former buyer for a group of bookstores - not much actual business gets done at BEA. I never once wrote an order there. By the time I went to the show I had already met with all of my reps and placed my orders for the season. BEA was about meeting the authors, getting some autographs, and spending time with other folks who love books as much as I do - pretty much the same reason I go to Dragon*Con every year, only Dragon*Con is way more fun because I get to walk around in a costume instead of in business attire.

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