Obama’s Super Secret BEA Party, Small Publishers Schadenfreude

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

obamabarackNEW YORK: On Saturday, US president Barack Obama arrived in New York City to take his wife Michelle to see August Wilson’s play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone on Broadway. Soon, the rumor spread that the President planned to visit Random House, his book publisher, for a super-secret party.

True or not — we couldn’t get confirmation either way — we know at the very least, there was no chance Random House was going to invite Obama to visit their booth at BookExpo America. It would have barely accommodated the First Family, let alone their Secret Service detail.

Random House’s footprint at BEA this year was shockingly small, as in blink-and you’d-miss-it small, as in editorial assistants-could-afford-larger-apartments-in-Manhattan small. It was a token really. But at least it was that: Both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Macmillan set up in meeting rooms instead. (Macmillan’s being so far afield, you needed an oxygen tank to make the trek.)

That three of the biggest publishing groups were diminishing their participation in such a dramatic way was a sign of the times. Whenever asked, nearly all the big conglomerate publishers acknowledged they were not selling nearly as many books as last year and money was tight. Independent publishers, many of which deal with strained cash flow as a daily dilemma, indulged in mild schadenfreude.”Welcome to our world,” seemed to be their mantra.

Next year Random House might want to reconsider their booth size. With their author signings – often done with two A-list writers simultaneously – lines formed that were so long they stretched far, far down the aisles, likely disrupting smaller publisher’s meetings.

Of course, the Random House traffic jam was nothing compared with the traffic jam caused by President Obama. Hours prior to the start of his play, police blocked off vast stretches in mid-town Manhattan – making all the more difficult for publishers to find cabs to take them those Saturday parties that mark the end of the penultimate day of BEA.

By the next day, the barricades were gone, as were most of the publishers. When BEA 2009 closed on Sunday at 3 p.m. there was big sigh of relief from the three or so people still left at the show to hear it: They survived what many people expected to be a dour event, full of lamentations for lost sales and colleagues.

As it turned out, things weren’t so bad at all. Yes, there were hundreds of missing people, victims of layoffs – many an address book looks like it’s been redacted by the CIA — but publisher’s lists look to have enough potential blockbusters forthcoming to hopefully bring customers back into bookstores.

The most important of these is, without a doubt, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, which pubs worldwide on September 15. Let’s all pray that it is good.

For PublishingPerspectives.com, BEA marked our coming out party. In fact, today marks our official launch. As we spoke with publishers, both from the USA and around the world, we were delighted to hear your words of encouragement. Tell us what you’d like to read about in the future and we’ll do our best to accommodate you.

Tomorrow: A final look at BEA, as seen through the eyes of Europeans.

TELL US: What was the highlight of your BEA

BUY: Tickets for Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

PLAY: The Trafficjam Game

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.