BEA, Swine Flu and You

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

Flu“The publishing industry should take note,” said the books editor of one major American newspaper. “There are a lot of lessons to be learned about marketing from the swine flu. First, differentiate yourself from the pack early. Second, come up with a snappy brand name. Third, find a way to hook the media. Once you have the undivided attention of the media, the public will have to take interest, which means the media has to continue writing about it even after they themselves lose interest. Then you have a virtuous circle.” (The speaker asked to remain anonymous, out of fear of offending those who have suffered from the flu.)

Last month, just as the news about swine flu was breaking, the PEN World Voices Festival in New York had at least one author that we know of cancel due to fear. Now, weeks later, the threat of swine flu appears to be receding, although this past Sunday New York City’s health department reported a second death in the city from the flu. Health officials continue to be concerned about its possible further spread.

So, the question is, with BookExpo America convening this week in New York City and tens of thousands of people expected to converge on the Javits Center, should you be concerned about air-kissing, shaking hands or otherwise commingling your way into a case of swine flu?

Probably not. BEA’s official statement reads in part:

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention are not recommending any travel or trade restrictions at this time. WHO advises no restriction of regular travel or closure of borders. It is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention, in line with guidance from national authorities.

Not content just to take BEA’s word for it, we asked for advice from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the city that suffered the first recorded death in the United States from the disease. They directed us to their resident expert, Dr. W. Paul Glezen.

Dr. Glezen reports that the majority of cases have affected those under the age of 40. “Historically, when a pandemic starts the people first affected are those who have the most contact in the community,” he wrote on the hospitals’ Web site. “Working adults and school children are usually at the forefront of any epidemic, and certainly pandemics.”

His advice to avoid contracting the flu is no different than what you’ve heard before. “Avoid crowds and avoid people who are coughing and sneezing as much as possible,” he writes.

Unfortunately, that’s probably not an option this year at BEA, which looks likely to be more densely packed than ever before. The total square-footage of booths sold is down 25% from last year’s show in LA, while the number of registered attendees is up over 50%. (Though, compared to the 2007 New York BEA, the registrants are down 30%).

So, what can you do to protect yourself in the midst of the book loving masses? You could wear a mask, but that seems like an extreme measure – one that might be off putting to anyone who might want to speak with you. (Though we guarantee you’ll see at least one independent author roaming the aisles with a branded mask promoting their new book). Better advice comes from BEA vp Lance Fensterman, who advises on his blog: “Wash your hands often and bring some Purell [alcohol-based hand sanitizer] or disinfectant of your choice. I do it for almost every show I attend, flu scare or not.”

Might we suggest that anyone with a booth this year provide access to a large bottle of hand sanitizer to guests instead of giving them candy or chocolates. Also, if you do have a cough, try to cough into the inside of your elbow instead of your hand — it’s marginally more hygenic.

As for that newspaper books editor who earlier suggested that the swine flu offered lessons in marketing, is he taking still traveling to New York for BEA?

“No,” he replied. “But it has nothing do with the swine flu. It’s the economy: I can’t justify the expense of the trip. Plus, I’m so worried about losing my job, I feel sick most of the time already.”

WATCH: Philip Alcabes, author of “Dread: How Fear and Fantasy have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to the Avian Flu” discussing swine flu paranoia on “The Daily Show.”

PLAY: “Sneeze,” an online game which demonstrates just how much of a population can be infected by a single, unprotected sneeze.

READ: BEA show runner Lance Fensterman’s blog.

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.