With exhibit space down 25%, and pre-registrations down 15% from the last New York show in 2007 (although up substantially from the weak LA show in 2008), expectations were low going into BookExpo America this year.  But there was still lots of action in the graphic novel space, and an over-all positive vibe (for 2009) for the show, which ended Sunday. 


Things started out stronger than expected, with verified attendance through Saturday down only 4% from the last New York show, according to Reed VP Lance Fensterman’s blog.  But numbers for the last Sunday ever for BookExpo (the show is going to weekdays beginning next year, see “BEA to Stay in New York”) could still change that.  Some of the drop in attendance was intentional, according to Fensterman, as the show made it less attractive for attendees less desired by exhibitors (for example, unpublished authors) to attend. 


The backdrop for the show was a declining book market, with the Book Industry Study Group reporting that book sales were down 1.5% in 2008 as the show opened.  There was also lots of movement on the e-book front on the eve of the show, with two major wholesalers announcing deals that took them further into digital delivery.  Baker & Taylor announced a deal with Overdrive on digital distribution and a deal with R.R. Donnelley for POD services.  Ingram announced a reorganization of its digital initiatives and POD operations into a single unit, the Ingram Content Group. 


Crumb's Book of Genesis was getting a big send-off at W.W. Norton.
Like major book houses (Random House, for example, had a dramatically reduced floor presence this year), some graphic novel publishers cut back.  DC Comics, Viz Media, and Tokyopop all had significant presences on the floor last year (Tokyopop in the HarperCollins booth, Viz and DC in freestanding islands), and none this year.  Other graphic novel publishers cut their space back, sent fewer people, or reduced their presence in other ways.  But some publishers, like W.W. Norton, with a major display for its coming Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb, gave graphic novels a higher profile than before.


Manga seemed particularly affected, with Dark Horse, Hachette’s Yen Press, and Japanime the only manga publishers we saw on the floor.  But Diamond Book Distributors’ Kuo-Yu Liang assured us that manga was still an important part of the business.  “The market for manga is still there,” he said, noting that the number of titles had gotten out of hand relative to the demand, and was coming back in line. 


In the Diamond Book Distributors aisle, things were looking spiffy, as Diamond standardized its look with backlit signage throughout for the first time.  Signings were the order of the day there, with a Friday sampling including Tara McPherson at the Dark Horse booth, Chris Claremont at the Marvel booth, and Chris Giarrusso at the Image booth. 


Image’s Joe Keatinge described the results of its signing for G-Man:  Learning to Fly, by Chris Giarrusso.  “We had more than 100 books ready to give away and had scheduled two hours to sign,” Keatinge said.  “Forty minutes later everything was gone and people were coming back for more, so we’ve got him doing an encore signing on Sunday, having him back over here.  We’ve had a tremendous response from buyers, librarians, excited to see a superhero title written for children that wasn’t talking down to them in the slightest.” 


Giarrusso was signing copies of the new digest-sized collection of G-Man stories; a new comic series will begin this fall, with another digest-sized collection to follow. 


A sign of the times at BEA.
Near the Diamond aisle, though, was a reminder that returns pounded many graphic novel publishers in late 2008:  the ToW Distribution booth, where graphic novel remainders were the order of the day.


But market weakness is perceived as a thing of the past by graphic novel optimists, who believe that sales have stabilized and can grow from here.  With an increase in graphic novel sales in 2008 despite a tough fourth quarter and the decline in over-all book sales (see “Graphic Novels Up in 2008”), it will take a solid second half to grow the market again this year. 


Many new graphic novel product announcements were being held for San Diego, according to company spokespeople, as the focus of the graphic novel biz now turns to the next, largest show in the calendar.  Watch this site in the coming days for announcements that did come out at BEA.