BookExpo America (BEA), the trade publishing’s industry-wide gathering, just finished in New York City.  I’ve heard a number of people say it was smashing success.  Really?!  On what grounds?  The fact that the DOJ didn’t march in and start handcuffing publishers?  Or the fact that there wasn’t a steel-caged death match between Amazon executives and the Big 6?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there were some good conversations at BEA.  But I think we are being a little too generous with praise.  We are not even in the first inning of this digital disruption, and we need to have hard conversations and move aggressively. 

With that in mind, here are a few changes I’d implement if I ran BEA (or had any say in it whatsoever).  These are in no particular order:

  1.  I’d intermix the big publishers and technology companies on the same main floor.  Digital is not coming; it’s here.  And we need to start exploring, experimenting and celebrating technology companies focused on books and book derivatives.   Don’t hide them on the far edges.  Make them front and center and let everyone know—the publishers, authors, and agents alike—we are embracing it.
  2. Give everyone WIFI access.  And then let publishing employees know as they enter that no one should ever receive an automatic “out of office” reply email.  Those who do this will be publicly flogged at high noon in front of the Javits Center.  BEA is work, not vacation.  In the new world, you have to be able to do both.
  3. Invite successful tech innovators to speak.  Ask Steve Case how he built AOL when the internet was still in its infancy.  Ask Tony Hsieh how he built Zappos when hundreds of shoe outlets, including Amazon, already existed.  Ask any prominent music executive to speak about what they would have done differently pre or post Napster.  These principles can be mapped over to the publishing industry.
  4. Limit the number of physical books that a publisher can give away.  Start giving away digital copies.  Not only is it good for business from both a cost and logistical standpoint, but the hallways will also stop looking like the lost luggage center of LaGuardia.
  5. Use BEA for recruiting.  Give away x-number of passes to bright students, entrepreneurs, and thinkers so that they can roam the floor and interact with the industry.  They will see the world from an unbiased perspective and often have radical ideas.  It’s important to hang a question mark on things that have for too long ended with a period.

I could go on, but you get the point.  Things need to change, and BEA can be the tip of the sword.   If you have additional ideas on how we can continually get better, add your thoughts on the BEA Facebook page HERE (for the record, I have no affiliation to BEA or their Facebook page.  I just care deeply about publishing.)