I arrived a bit late to NYC today, thanks to much traffic along the Bolt Bus route. Still, $14 one way to get me to a major trade show was too good a deal to pass up. In these tough economic times, if it weren’t for the $14 bus, I’d probably be skipping the convention completely.
For those who don’t know, BookExpo America is the annual gathering of the business side of book publishing. Years ago it was known as the ABA Convention, and was run by the American Booksellers Association, and handing out catalogs and chatting up mom & pop bookstores was the order of the day. Now that there are hardly any independent bookstores left (when I went to my first ABA convention there were about 5000 indie bookstores in the USA, and now there are about 500), the show is more about subsidiary rights, and connections between all the inter-related businesses of publishing, including printing and marketing and multimedia and on and on.
There is still much catering to booksellers and librarians, but also a lot of other stuff.
My evening started at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund party/fundraiser at Hudson Terrace. As I Tweeted when I arrived, the venue was way swank. I had fun chats with lots of folks including my old friend Glenn Haumann, who was possibly the very first person to try to get me into ebooks like 10 years ago. He’s no longer in the ebook biz, but in comics, in a very web-presence-driven company called ComicMix. Also shook hands with Charles Brownstein, the head honcho at CBLDF. The party was lively but the main topic of conversation running through the room is the “Handley manga case“–specifically the very recent news that Handley, an Iowa man charged with child porn for owning manga, has pled guilty.
In short: the fact that the government can see fit to enter your private home, look through your private library, and declare ownership of a piece of fantasy literature you have as illegal, label you a pervert and send you to jail for it, is UTTERLY CHILLING. “Sets constitutional law back by generations,” Brownstein said.
By the way, the CBLDF takes DONATIONS.
I then caught a cab over the the Lambda Literary Awards to try to arrive in time for the after party, since I am far too poor to consider attending the actual awards reception and ceremony. While there I caught sight of Judy Grahn, whom I had never met but had spoken to on the phone back in the days when I worked at Beacon Press (twenty years ago… yeah). Caught up with Michael Lowenstein, Ron Suresha, Michele Karlsberg, and a few other folks. Ironically, Lowenstein and Suresha are New Englanders, so of course I had to come all the way to NYC to chat with them…
The actual after party was at the W Hotel nearby but by then I was pooped and wanted to get on the bus headed to the Bronx where I am couch surfing. (Did I mention we’re doing this trip on the cheap?)
I logged in to post this blog and couldn’t help but see the most recent Publishers Lunch newsletter had arrived, with coverage from today’s BEA sessions! (If you’re not subscribing to Free Lunch, you’re missing out.)
I was most annoyed to see the following from author Sherman Alexie, who spoke on a panel of top selling authors talking about the book business.
When talk turned, as it inevitably does now, to electronic reading [Lisa] Scottoline believed the effect of the Kindle and other electronic devices is additive; but Alexie was blunt in his objection: “I saw a woman in the audience with a Kindle and I wanted to hit her.” He also explained why his work is not available digitally: “I think [electronic reading] is the opposite of the Gutenberg press, and that machines promote elitism”, while adding his opinion stemmed from growing up poor with “limited access to technology.” It isn’t that Alexie is a Luddite, but that the “physical presence of book – turning pages, sitting in the bathtub, the relationship to book won’t be the same. It distances us from the book. Only a certain kind of book sells well electronically and thus limits what publishers will make available in that format. Eccentric writers will have even more difficulty getting books published. As a result the Kindle will homogenize literature even more.”
He is SO WRONG. But then again he is a heterosexual man (I think) whose issues are wholly different from mine. Ebooks are the bastion right now of all the genres that people want to read but which have been categorically and consistently excluded from the bookstores and the mainstream publishing channels. Where else is male/male fantasy erotica written by women for women thriving? Eccentric writers have a better chance than ever of finding their niches and no longer rely on being banged into the round holes that the publishing business insists the square pegs fit into or be ignored entirely.
For too long the book publishing industry’s only customer who counted was not the end reader, but the bookstore. Now that the indies are greatly reduced, and the chain stores rule the roost, what gets published is driven by the tastes (and guesses that publshers try to make about the tastes) of a small handful of individuals.
Ebook publishers cut the bookstore’s tastes and preferences out of the chain and go straight for the people who really matter, the actual readers.
More tomorrow. I will be tweeting as the show goes along from https://twitter.com/ceciliatan.