Wednesday, November 2, 2016

BEA and Bloggers

So the news came down from Publisher's Weekly the other day that Book Expo America will be changing, and among other things limiting the number of bloggers it will be allowing to attend. Since many if not all of us bloggers who attend BEA do so under the aegis of the press pass, I presume that means BEA will not be issuing as many gratis press admissions to bloggers.

For those of you unfamiliar with BEA, it's the annual book trade conference and show, where publishers from around the world mingle with booksellers, librarians, authors and, for the past few years, a growing group of book bloggers. Like me for example, and probably others you read too. Bloggers have enjoyed meeting publishers, authors, and each other, and having access to many, many early copies of books. It's been the biggest thing on the blogging calendar for almost the last decade, and one of the biggest in the entire publishing industry for many years. Several years ago a group of bloggers started an affiliated conference for bloggers, which was bought by BEA and wrapped into itself. Now that conference will be discontinued and bloggers who aren't able to attend BEA will have the chance to attend BookCon, a consumer-focused event at the end of BEA that is open to the public.

I have to admit to mixed feelings about the changes. I've attended BEA twice, at least once as a blogger with a press pass and no other credentials. I was grateful to be allowed to attend and I think any time I've attended a book conference, whether it be the American Library Association's conference, the conference of the New England Independent Booksellers' Association or other associated event, it's helped me grow and develop as a book person. I know a lot of people from my cohort of bloggers who have gone on to become booksellers, writers, bookstore owners, literary agents and more, and I'm convinced that attending BEA helped them grow and develop too. So I'm a little depressed that today's group of up and coming book bloggers might not have the same opportunities.

At the same time I get it. The book blogging community has changed in the past ten years since I started and I get the feeling that the publishing world isn't as interested in our community as it used to be. For a while they had fun experimenting with us and we benefited from attention and access and galleys. For a while it was easy to sell people on the lure of the technology. Even having a blog at all made you stand out and folks were curious and wanted to know what it was all about. I visited publishing houses, met executives and authors, was feted with coffee and pastries, a dinner now and then, and more books.

But I wonder if over time the effort they put in proved difficult to reflect in their balance sheets and they grew disenchanted. I can't blame publishers who want to see more return on investment than we can always provide. It's not always easy to demonstrate influence in raw numbers. I know- I know- I've made an impact on my readers over the years, but I also know that even when my blog was at the height of its popularity I sold exactly zero books through my affiliate links. Zero. Publishers want and deserve better. When I last attended BEA in 2015 in NYC I noticed a distinct chill towards bloggers, even from companies I'd worked with for years. Someone would glance at my badge and turn away; I'd ask a question and get the run around.  A week or two ago I emailed a publicity department to request a paper copy of an upcoming catalog (which I've received many times) and was curtly directed to a PDF download and thanked "for my interest." Okay then!

Which is all fine, really. Flying my blogger banner alone I'm not deserving of anything and everything I've enjoyed, and we've enjoyed as a community, has been a privilege and a bonus and not a right or an entitlement. With the growth of platforms like Book Riot, Buzzfeed and other review sites, many of which employ book bloggers, maybe there's a sense that these sites are more effective at reaching large numbers. And if they're tired of us, that's their right too, and it's understandable.  But so many of us were able to take our love of books from a personal hobby to a professional pursuit thanks to the connections and relationships we made at BEA and Blogger Con and this move seems to signal that the powers that be at BEA see us as consumers and not as potential partners in the game of influence and promotion. And that they may believe our influence is less than what they used to think.

So, maybe this decision is the end of an era, or maybe it will act as a wake-up call to us in the blogging community. Maybe we keep doing what we're doing, or we figure out a better way to be relevant and influential. Maybe we need to shake up our game and find a new way to play. I'm up for it; what about you?