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Major publishing fairs BookExpo and BookCon to ‘retire’ after pandemic cancellations

BookExpo America attendees visit the Macmillan booth in 2015, in New York.
BookExpo America attendees visit the Macmillan booth in 2015, in New York. Publishers, authors, librarians and book retailers flocked to the biggest publishing trade show in the U..S., now indefinitely canceled.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

BookExpo and BookCon are slamming shut, at least for now.

The long-running bookselling trade fair BookExpo and its more recent consumer-facing weekend show, BookCon, are being retired “effective immediately” after being canceled earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also tabled is the concurrent Unbound show for books-related merchandise.

ReedPop, the consumer events subdivision of Reed Exhibitions, said in a statement on Tuesday that the cancellations are due to the “continued uncertainty surrounding in-person events,” deciding that “the best way forward is to retire the current iteration of events as they explore new ways to meet the community’s needs through a fusion of in-person and virtual events.”

In March, the annual conventions, usually held at the Javits Center in New York City, were first postponed from May to July (as the Javits hall was turned into a temporary COVID-19 hospital). Ultimately, the bibliophilic gatherings were replaced with six days of virtual programming during the original dates.

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“While we missed not seeing old friends and colleagues in person this year, we believe that canceling our in-person BookExpo, BookCon, and UnBound 2020 events was the correct decision to make,” event director Jennifer Martin said in the statement. “BookExpo Online and BookConline brought us together virtually to celebrate our love of books and remind us that there are other, new ways to gather to support the stories and community we hold dear.”

For Renée Rettig, owner of Books on B in Hayward, Calif., her first visit to Book Expo America was a thrill: “I felt like Cinderella!”

ReedPop is investigating ways to rebuild the events, Martin said, in consultation with publishers, booksellers and other partners. Most pages of the BookExpo and BookCon websites were taken off the Internet, replaced by a single page acknowledging only that “we’re working on the next chapter.”

“The pandemic arrived at a time in the life cycle of BookExpo and BookCon where we were already examining the restructure of our events to best meet our community’s needs,” Martin added, acknowledging challenges that had preceded the pandemic.

“This has led us to make the difficult decision to retire the events in their current formats, as we take the necessary time to evaluate the best way to move forward and rebuild our events that will better serve the industry and reach more people than we were able to before.”

The American Booksellers of America convention was established in 1947 as a way to bring together bookstore owners with the publishing industry in the spring to showcase forthcoming titles and arrange orders for the fall season. The fair was renamed Book Expo America after its acquisition by Reed Exhibitions in 1995.

The convention has faced an uphill battle in the 21st century; Barnes & Noble and then Amazon largely centralized book acquisitions in the hands of a few key buyers, and technology reduced the need for the owners of a shrinking number of bookstores to meet publishing representatives face-to-face. The convention began using less space within convention centers, leaving large halls empty. ReedPop, which has had success with comic conventions, looked to revitalize BookExpo with the consumer-facing BookCon, beginning in 2014.

The show, which had rotated among different cities, settled for a more scaled-down affair based at New York’s Javits Center. Its last convention in a different city, Chicago, in 2016, saw a steep decline in attendance. Nonetheless, it remained a valuable gathering place for publishers looking to build momentum for upcoming titles, hosting popular “Buzz Panels” and glitzy dinners for authors, buyers and the press. BookCon gained a foothold among a growing fan base of young-adult readers. Then came the pandemic.

Check out our 2020 holiday book gift guide for the best non-fiction and fiction picks for literary enthusiasts on your list.

The conventions’ retirement comes amid reports that 500 staff members have left or will leave parent company Reed Exhibitions by the end of the year, the Financial Times said.

ReedPop hosts other events, including Emerald City Comic Con and Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, but these too were postponed from spring to December 2021. It still plans to host its BookCon Facebook group and fold book content into its upcoming Metaverse events.


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