We had some loose ends from our initial article on Book Expo America, held last weekend in Los Angeles (see “Graphic Novels a Bright Spot”), that it’s time to wrap up.  One was attendance and the impact of the Los Angeles venue on the number of buyers.  We asked Reed Exhibitions Vice President Lance Fensterman, who runs BEA, his evaluation of attendance. 


“Going out to L.A. we knew we’d have some attrition, particularly in the librarian segment and in our rights segment from Europe and indeed that was the case,” he told us.  “The number was about 5,800 for pure book buyers and that’s down a little bit from the last time we were in L.A. by about 900 people and certainly down from New York. This is not shocking. We expected it, heading into L.A. I’m not necessarily complacent or pleased about it, but it’s not a surprise.  The good news was that the independent bookseller number was very high. It was about 1500-1600, which is on par or slightly up from independent bookseller attendance in New York, so I’m very happy with that and pleased with the partnership with the ABA to bring those buyers out.”


The show has one more year in Los Angeles, the third year of a three year contract signed before Fensterman’s tenure.  We asked him what he thought about future BEA’s in that venue.  “We will honor our contract but we will also honor our customers,” he said.  “We always spend summer and into the fall asking our customers how the show worked for them and what didn’t work and asking their opinions on the venue. And based on that feedback, we will make an appropriate decision on returning to L.A.


The show’s locations are set for the next three years, and there are no plans to return to Los Angeles during that time.  BEA will be held in New York in 2009, Washington, D.C. in 2010, and Las Vegas, for the first time in many years, in 2011.  We asked whether Las Vegas is a “book town.”  “It’s a book-maker’s town,” Fensterman quipped, but pointed to the quality of the convention facilities, the affordable prices.  “All these things add up to us rolling the dice on Vegas and seeing how the book world likes it,” he said, continuing the gambling metaphors. 


Another subject we wanted to run down was the short work stoppage by L.A. Convention Center food service employees on Saturday.  We heard that there was a walkout around mid-day, with food service brought to a halt on one of the busiest days of the show.  Fensterman told us that the strike put Reed  employees on the line as wait-staff:  “The catering union walked off the job just before our largest lunch event, and that left me and as much as the BEA staff as I could wrangle to serve 1,000 people a three-course lunch. The walk-out lasted about 90 minutes. It was a dispute between the catering union and the venue. It had nothing to do with BEA, other than it played out during our show. So L.A. was a challenge on a few fronts and then as my entire team and I were serving chicken dinners to 1,000 people, it really didn’t leave me with a great taste in my mouth.”


We also asked Fensterman about the placement of the Graphic Novel Pavilion in the more lightly trafficked West Hall.  “We want to balance as much as we can,” he said. “For example, in the West Hall we placed autographing at the back of the hall. We have 600 to 700 authors signing.  That draws thousands of people through that hall. We also put the Cookbook Expo Stage, which has a certain vibrancy to it, the children’s area, which is one the more popular “pavilions” in the show, and graphic novels there as well.  Obviously we don’t like to think of it as a first and secondary hall. I understand why people can view it that way. We want to have balance and action in every corner of the show—that’s simply in our best interest.  So no, it was not by any means a conscious decision to put graphic novels in the secondary hall in any way, shape or form, it just a matter or where there’s space and then we do our best to create traffic everywhere at the show. That’s our job.”


To some, having the graphic novels next to the children’s pavilion revived the spector of comics being perceived as a children’s category.  Fensterman said there was no connection, other than space allocation, between the two pavilions.  “When we’re looking at a floor plan, it gets to be pretty much nuts and bolts.  We put them in the best location based on what’s available.”


We also heard from Diamond Book Distributors Vice President Sales and Marketing Kuo-Yu Liang after the show, who wanted us to know that the Graphic Novel Pavilion’s location was not a factor in the number of retail buyers they saw.  “Even though [Barnes & Noble graphic novel buyer] Jim Killen didn’t come, his boss, Bob Wietrak, spent one of his ONLY two appointments in our aisle.  The REMOTE west hall was not a deterrent to buyers from Target, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Kmart, military bases, Follett, Bookazine, Ingram, Baker and Taylor, Virgin Megastores, Indigo, Buy.com, Overstock.com, Deepdiscount.com, National Association of College Bookstores and many others, and not to mention the scores of Hollywood agents, licensors and media who visited the graphic novel publishers.”


Liang also indicated that they could not get as much space as they wanted for the Graphic Novel Pavilion this year, and that they hoped to get more space next year.