BEA So Far: More Questions Than Answers

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

461px-question_mark_alternatesvg1NEW YORK: “Oh, I love Tina Fey!” said one conventioneer, in response to an invitation from a friend to attend a panel  being moderated by publisher Tina Brown in a nearby room. The mistake  –  confusing Fey, a television comedienne, for Brown, the former New Yorker editor and Web mistress – is unfortunate, though not entirely inexcusable. After all, Fey made headlines last October when she was signed to a multimillion dollar book deal by Little, Brown editor Reagan Arthur, while Brown is likely burning through millions of dollars with her latest venture, The Daily Beast.

BEA 2009 is shaping up to be a confusing affair. When when you ask someone “How’s business? and they answer “OK,” you are pleased for them. The fact is, expectations are so low that “OK” is the new “great.

What’s more, the show itself is serving up some rather, well, confusing concepts.

Take, for example Firebrand, the company which owns NetGalley and has enlisted some fifty bloggers to “sign” in the company’s booth. It sounds like a cool idea, but what exactly will they sign?

Then there was the opening keynote session of the convention which touted the appearance of Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler and the E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons. You might have assumed, like me, that they were going to play a concert. Instead, they were merely interviewed by author and music journalist Chuck Klosterman. Bummer.

Even some of the most innovative minds in publishing are offering up concepts that take a bit of imagination to connect the dots.  On Thursday, Richard Eoin Nash, former publisher of Soft Skull Press, revealed the name and nature of his latest project: The Round Table, which Nash described as a newfangled publishing company, based on a “social publishing model” where “writers and readers are one in the same” and where, if I got this right, writing and editing will be transparent, open source collaboration.

So, to repeat: A writer is a reader, and readers are writers, and everyone is working on each others books? Well, yes, apparently.

Perhaps BEA is merely reflecting the confusion that’s rampant in the industry as a whole, one that everyone agrees is undergoing a transformation, even if we don’t quite know what kind.

Paul E. Kozlowski, former VP and director of independent retail field sales for Random House, says this BEA is more about finding out what the actual questions are that need to be answered, rather than the answers themselves. He took a few minutes to talk about what he’s trying to get out of this BEA:


In addition, we spoke with a number of prominent industry figures who helped try to make sense of other vexing issues:

BEA VP Lance Fensterman described BEA “by the numbers” and explains how the seemingly lower number of registered attendees is actually up:


USA Today book critic and reporter Bob Minzesheimer discusses the state of book reviewing in the US and why it’s self-destructive for newspapers to close book sections when their very function is to cater to “readers”:


Andrew Savikas is the VP of Digital Initiatives for O’ReillyMedia, discusses e-books and why the phone may more important to their widespread adoption than any dedicated e-reader:


About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.