Today is the official opening of the convention in Denver. This year will be my 28th consecutive ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) or CBA as we veterans still call it (Christian Booksellers Association Convention). I absolutely love the experience. I’ve attended as a retailer, as an exhibitor, and now as an “industry professional.” I find it amusing that each name badge is color-coded to help exhibitors know whether the person in their booth is a bookseller (and thereby a potential customer) or a browser, like me. What makes it particularly fun is that the “agent” color is black….the color of an agent’s soul.
PRO: There is nothing like the experience of walking the floor of the world’s largest Christian bookstore. Everything is there, the good, the bad, and the outrageous (like the balloon art crucifix or the painting of a junkie shooting heroin into the arm of Jesus). The spirit is electric. It can be overwhelming, but ultimately it is a picture of God at work. As a writer you can meet key people, network with fellow writers, collect catalogs (those that aren’t digital), and simply increase knowledge of what the industry is all about.
CON: Unrealized expectations. Too many writers think the convention should be all about them. It isn’t. Disappointment is palatable with some folks at the end of the experience. Their publisher didn’t pay enough attention to them; not enough people came to their signing; no editor was available for an appointment…etc. Go to the convention with modest expectations and the chance of disappointment with be minimized.
MORE CONS: In addition the convention has changed significantly in recent years. For the book publisher it is no longer a sales event. It has transformed to a type of author relations event. It makes the authors who come feel good, but it doesn’t help sell books. If you are an author and are doing a booksigning at the convention, don’t fool yourself. More than half the people in the autograph signing line could care less about the author – they want the free book. Sound cynical? More than a tad. But veterans know that I speak the truth. It is still a great way to get books into the hands of booksellers. But it isn’t only fans who are in line.
Eighty percent or more of the publishers sales have already been made on forthcoming product by the time the ICRS convention rolls around. That is why you see bored sales reps standing around in the publisher booths.
This year will see radical reductions in attendance. The economy has hit the expense budgets hard. Most publishers are severely limiting their presence. Thomas Nelson, Steeple Hill, and Waterbrook are not exhibiting at all. Others are sending a third of the staff they have in the past.
A few publishers banked heavily on the Christian Book Expo in Dallas (March 2009) which was a financial disaster of mythic proportions. So when this July show was planned, there simply wasn’t the budget.
We’ve seen this coming slowly but surely. The music industry’s presence dropped dramatically some years ago. And I see the book publishers following suit.
Some are predicting the demise of the show. I doubt that will happen entirely. It may change, but it is unlikely to go away. And don’t forget that the gift products almost always must be chosen in person. A buyer for a store cannot, or should not, make their product selections out of a catalog or a one inch picture online.
There are few venues where all levels of the publishing industry can gather and exchange ideas. Executives, sales people, marketers, publicity experts, authors, agents, journalists, etc. all in the same place. I really enjoy being at this event. It is a highlight of every year.