I just got back from Book Expo America at the Javits Convention Center in New York.  It was a hectic, exhausting, revealing four days.  Twenty five years ago the Book Expo consisted mostly of the big publishing companies, I’ll call them Big P, pitching new books to buyers from independent and chain bookstores, and there is a lot of that going on still.  Huge banners with book covers on them hung all over the center.  Each of the Big P houses had a block of floor space with sales people pitching books.  The problem is, there aren’t many independent bookstores left.  Hell, there aren’t many bookstores left.  It’s going online, and Amazon has the lion’s share of that.  The discount they offer is the money that used to go to warehouse and distribute books and to cover the higher operating cost of small bookstores.  Books are cheaper.

One whole wall of the convention center was devoted to desks of authors giving away and signing their books.   Lines for some famous authors snaked clear across the building.  Most of those lined up were young women with shopping bags full of free books.  But, some of those famous authors are self published.  The Indie Press section covered about 20% of the floor space.  Another third was taken up by start-up companies offering publicity, marketing, formatting, printing, distributing, design, and editing for Indie presses and self-publishers.

Away from the exhibition hall there were lectures; a dozen going on at all times from 9:30 to 5:00 daily.  I went to the ones on promoting books using social media; Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+.  Big P offered up data they’ve gathered showing where the publishing business is going.  With a collective sigh of relief they revealed that paper book sales were flat from last year, after three years of decline.  Ebook sales are still increasing; 45% this year, but at least it wasn’t triple digits like last year.  One of their slides showed the sale of ebooks increased by $780 Million, while paper book sales remained flat.  But, that same slide showed textbooks in the K-12 market down $800 Million!  I asked what was happening and was told it was because of the the states are broke and they aren’t buying textbooks.  Not so!  The school my grandchildren will attend just announced they got a federal grant to equip all students with Ipads.  A whole industry; the K-12 textbook industry, is going to go digital.  College too.

Statistics were skewed by the new marketplace.  Fifty Shades of Grey (a Romance novel) and Hunger Games (a Young Adults novel) padded their genres making both look like big growth areas.  Many ebooks sold at $.99 or were given away free, so there were many more books acquired than the dollar figures would indicate.  Many of those cheap ebooks will never be read.  Romance novels comprise a gigantic market of voracious readers who are also active in social media and want to know everything about their favorite authors.  I don’t think that carries over into non-fiction or other genres. There is a growing number of readers who have become very sophisticated in finding just the kind of books they like to read,.  Blogs and web sites are catering to that market by offering book reviews, chats, and giveaways.  It’s a game millions of people are playing.

Publishers Weekly, the indispensable magazine of the industry was sold by a Big P conglomerate and is now enabling Indie presses and ebooks.  Oh, the irony!