December 3, 2020
Bye-Bye BEA: Big Book Bonanza Bails, No Replacement Seen
by Mike Lindgren
In a move that surprised exactly no one, trade-show behemoth ReedPop announced that BookExpo, formerly the annual conference of the American Booksellers Association, would cease to exist, ending a tradition that dates back, in one form or another, to 1947.
Speaking to Publishers Weekly about BEA and its sister event BookCon, Events Director Jenny Martin said that Reed had made “the difficult decision to retire the events in their current formats, as we take the necessary time to evaluate the best way to move forward and rebuild our events that will better serve the industry and reach more people than we were able to before.”
Your managing editor first attended the Conference Formerly Known as ABA back in May 1992
(insert wobbly flashback camera fade, footage of rice paddies, audio of Jimi Hendrix playing “All Along the Watchtower”) … no, sorry, wrong flashback. Let’s try again.
Your managing editor was but an earnest, bushy-tailed assistant editor when, naive and innocent, a wisp of hay still clinging to his $99 off-the-rack blue blazer, he first braved the open-ended brawl that ABA once was. He remembers looking with wide eyes down at the sprawling show floor, and his mentor saying, “ABA … Never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”
Ugh, sorry. Off the rails again! OK. The place: Miami, Florida; the time: June 1992. The managing editor
disembarks from the horse-drawn jitney that has carried him lo these many miles to the fabled south. A liveried messenger rushes up, bearing a telegram from the home office … “wireless for you, sir!” the boy calls. Alighting on the cobbled pavement of Route 41, the managing editor digs in his pocket for
[Message from the marketing director]: Our apologies. The managing editor has been relieved of the responsibility of writing this post. AS
A brief and informal survey of booksellers conducted by Publishers Weekly confirmed a community that was saddened but not shocked by Reed’s news. Many booksellers felt that BookExpo had been gradually drained of relevance over the course of the last decade or so and had concluded that attendance was no longer essential.
Still, PW concluded, “many booksellers are hoping Reed will find a way to reimagine the event.” Like everything else, it seems, the future of this once-iconic event is in doubt.
Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.