Like many going into the 2009 ICRS convention (aka CBA or the Christian Booksellers Association convention) I was wondering what would be found. It was great to see that instead of the projected doom and gloom there was light and hope. (Yes, that is Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber in the photo to the left – courtesy of Christian Retailing Magazine.) A few observations:
1) The total convention exhibit floor was about 30% smaller than in past years and the middle section, housing CBA’s events and displays was HUGE. In fact you could walk through the entire book section very rapidly for the first time in years. Everything seemed condensed.
2) The net effect of the smaller sales floor was that you felt the crowds. There was noise, energy, and excitement in the air. This was a major change over previous years where it always felt so quiet.
3) The reason for the reduced exhibit floor is simple. The publishers reduced the size of their booths. Many cut their space in half. Others simply did not exhibit at all (Thomas Nelson, Steeple Hill, NavPress, and Waterbrook were not to be found). I am not one to make a big deal of the decision to eliminate an exhibit. As a cost cutting move they saved a bundle. They did miss out on some media opportunities (an editor for the Associated Press was working the floor for a story on Christian fiction) and some “hallway” conversations. But when a publisher can spend $100,000 or more to attend the budget restraints are understandable. (A simple 10′ x 10′ booth can cost well over $2,000 just for the space. Then you have to get there, ship the product, create a snazzy booth design, etc.)
4) Fewer publishers had a separate convention suite for meetings. Since those suites can cost more than $10,000+ for the event it was an understandable change. It made finding private places for a meeting a little more difficult, but we all managed.
5) Monday, the first actual day of ICRS, was very busy on the convention floor. The lines for book signings were long and exciting. But I made an interesting observation. I seemed to recognize almost everyone who was walking around. That meant two things:
a) I’m old. After 28 years in the business you get to know a lot of people.
b) It meant that a large number of the attendees were authors or exhibitors…NOT stores.
In fact the word-on-the-street was that there were only 300 stores registered. But I have no way to verify that number. Plus one registration may represent a half dozen or more regional chain stores, and the Family Christian Store chain has over 300 locations. This further cements the reality that the convention is not the place for order taking. Instead it is a place for building bridges with customers, clients, and eventually, consumers.
Bottom line is that it felt busy. And that is a good thing. It did get VERY quiet by Wednesday when all the authors and many of the editorial staff had left. Cutting a full day from the normal four day convention was a very good decision. Kudos to CBA for listening to their members on that score.
6) Those who were predicting that this would be the last ICRS (and that the industry was doomed) were wrong…again. Why is it that we like to view things so negatively? Is it that genetic disposition we have for slowing down to see a car wreck? Do we like to complain to elicit sympathy from our audience? While I can be as morose as the next guy, I try hard to see things in a more positive light. So while the show was a bit slower pace than in past years, it still had great benefit.
7) Benefits for our agency.
a) face time with key people
b) finalized negotiations on three contracts, in person.
c) navigated an author/editor clash, in person. Invaluable to have this kind of conversation face-to-face. Removed all the potential negativity that is systemic to all email communication. Instead the flow of words and exchange of ideas was critical to resolve the problem for everyone.
d) Met with two companies that are working hard on bringing digital products to the consumer via the retailer and the Internet. I was able to find out how I, as an agent, can help their efforts with publishers which will alternatively benefit our client’s sales.
e) Met with a long time industry friend who is seeking an aggressive way to bring back, in ebook and POD, those books, by my clients, that are now out of print and unavailable.
f) Heard the nuanced vision for publishing from at least a half dozen major publishers. Always helpful to hear them articulate their ideas and hear how I can find the right books for their program.
g) found out about two editors whose jobs have changed. One is not returning after maternity leave, another is leaving the company. It’s like trying to keep track of your favorite baseball player during the free agent signing season. People shift around all the time and each time creates another subtle change in the labyrinth.
h) had time with 12 clients who attended. Always nice to touch base, even if for a brief hello. Missed seeing five others due to scheduling conflicts.
You catch the theme here? “In person.” This is a relationship business…as it should be. Friends and acquaintances working towards a common goal.
Anyone else have a different take?