BE(not A), a Changing Landscape Part 1: History

eric smith 2015 bea.jpg
image from Eric Smith’s blog, May 2, 2015

A year and half ago, when Tasch & I first made this blog, she posted about BEA 2015 and I posted about why I wouldn’t be attending BEA 2016 (Me, BEA, and the Undying Will). At the time it was largely due to expenses as well as a feeling of…malaise. I’ve been attending BEA since 2007 – when I attended as an educator to meet an author I fervently admired after convincing my then boss I should try to expand our pitiful Center library. I had no idea what I was getting into; I wasn’t blogging and bloggers as a group had yet to start attending(1).

I didn’t come home with many books that year (ten?), but I also didn’t make any friends. It was an overwhelming experience to put it frankly. I almost didn’t attend in 2009, but at this point I was blogging and due to health reasons I wasn’t working, so my ability to read “new” books or meet other book lovers was severely limited(2). Book blogging as a community was just building itself together (anybody remember how great the book blogging community on “Ning” was? Does anyone even remember “Ning”?) so again there was maybe several dozens of us at BEA that year.

2010 it exploded.

This was the first year of “BEA Bloggers” conference (this is a good quick recap of the event itself), a separate (read: not associated with Reed Expo) day long conference filled with panels about blogging, books, and authors. I attended and I did learn some useful info, but more importantly I made quite a few friends that I am still close with today. After this year I believe it was taken over part of the official BEA pre-show stuff, which…well just google “BEA Bloggers Conference” to see how some people feel about that. I don’t have an opinion since I didn’t attend after 2010.

I suspect 2011 is where a lot of misunderstanding, miscommunication and general indifference to what it means to be a “book blogger” at an industry conference began. Others have noted over the years that being a book blogger means you have to have a real passion for books because we don’t get paid the way other entertainment bloggers do. We receive free copies of books, invites to events with authors, and swag, but maybe because books are so much more plentiful than other mediums book bloggers quickly confused other types of bloggers.

Books are fairly cheap, easily obtained at a library and literally hundreds of subgenres exist for any niche you like. Unlike a movie or game or music, you can’t region code a physical book. If a person wants to pay the shipping fees from Australia to get a book, they have that right and that’s all. Literally anyone can be a book blogger if you can read, and heck be an audiobook blogger if you can’t.

Publishers, who at the time focused much of their marketing/publicity towards those who buy in large quantities (either as book sellers or librarians or educators) or review for recognized publications (SLJ, Kirkus, etc), weren’t quite sure how to handle this influx of interest from folk who have a genuine PASSION for reading, but without a way to calculate their investment potential. Some adapted quickly. It was helpful that a large swath of interest was for Young Adult books, a category that was fairly BOOMING, but some took longer.

And into this mix was Book Expo America. A conference that was talked about as the “Mecca of Books”, a “Book Lover’s Paradise”, and “Free Book Heaven”. Unlike ALA’s conferences, publishers couldn’t charge for their books at BEA so once you paid the fee to get in everything was yours for the taking. Thanks to helpful posts (myself included, I won’t deny it) bloggers could get in under editorial media – meaning as press – and thus didn’t have to pay to attend. For the first couple of years it looked like BEA wasn’t turning anyone away.

Talk began about bad behavior, ARC reselling, rude publishers, rude bloggers, shoving in line, butting in line, hogging ARCs, grabbing multiples of ARCs, folk who went home with hundreds of copies(3)…

Those who had been blogging long enough to make contacts with publicists elsewise spoke with them off the record about the rising demand, the increasing entitlement and the lack of return. Discussions began about if you receive an ARC what your obligation to review it was. If you ask for the book does that mean you should review it? How timely? Could publicists remind you to review a book if you requested it? How did everyone feel about authors posting pleas to review the ARCs you receive? Are you more or less obligated if you just buy the book?

There was talk about whether bloggers belonged at BEA as well, but that was largely contained to random blog posts scattered throughout. And then BEA 2012 happened. Oh BEA 2012, you sorry son of a witch, you created so many problems for so many people. I have a recap about the registration horror that occurred for many of us, but guys that was a stressful time let me tell you.

It was also the beginning of what I like to dub “Bloggers Don’t Matter” for BEA’s management.

(to be continued)


Lexie Words

(1) There were bloggers, but that hat was secondary to their librarian, bookseller or educator hat. If there was more than two dozen solely book blogger attendees that year I’d be surprised.
(2) My local library is privately funded and is not connected to the state system. Its also largely focused on “bestseller” and “commercial” fiction. Over the years I’ve seen their Teen section (which was only three bookcases to begin with) dwindle to one bookcase, their scifi/fantasy section go from five bookcases to two, and their romance section to go from three bookcases to two shelves. When I asked them why they say lack of interest. I’ve donated new copies or new books to them to see them wind up in their monthly book sale, not circulation. I’ve given up on my local library in other words.
(3) I’ll cop to the fact that I used to bring home somewhere around 200 books. At the time my sister was in HS and I would get books that I wasn’t necessarily interested in, but that her book group might have been. As the book budget for her high school was $200 yearly they depended upon me to get them new titles. They weren’t rich kids, they were barely middle class kids in a lot of cases. It was my way of encouraging reading. After my sister left the school and every single kid she knew had graduated, I cut back to only books I was interested in or books for my niece (about 80 a conference).

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