Pre-Book Expo Fisticuffs And Other Nonsense

June 2nd, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Setting aside, for the moment, the fact that Publisher’s Weekly is referring to today as “BEA Eve”, we are finding the coverage of the event fascinating. Yes, dear readers, that means grown-ups are behaving in manners unbecoming of publishing industry professionals*. It almost makes us wish we were in New York. Almost being the operative word — why fight the crowds and such when others can do it faster and better?

It seems tempers were flaring at the first of the pre-show panels, and it’s all the fault of those darn young ‘uns who don’t read. What is a poor industry to do? Well, blame focus groups for starters. We cannot do the exchange justice — this is a moment where on-the-ground reporting is crucial:

Simon Spotlight’s Jen Bergstrom and Viacom’s Betsy Frank, the latter of whom was older than some of the other panelists (that’s relevant, we swear) started by explaining what they thought young people wanted, with Frank offering some of the marketing generalities (“We find young people are very spiritual”) that can get under the skin of more writerly souls.

Then, from the audience, DC Comics’ Stephanie Fierman said the kind of demographic studies Spotlight did felt insulting, particularly a diet book about big thighs; moderator Jessa Crispin of would later paraphrase the question by saying that Fierman felt like the “ass [was] being marketed to more than the brain.”

After Crispin herself announced that she felt alienated from the panel because of what seemed excessive commercialism (she said the young people she knew read Francine Prose and Philip Roth, not unlike older readers). Bergstrom jokingly called her a “smartypants” (referring to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,) and Frank suggested that Crispin “pay attention to the whole U.S., not your particular tastes in New York.”

Panelist Claudine Ko of Jane Magazine would later agree with Crispin, saying that the way the publishers were using marketing terms like demo to discuss books felt like “bizarre language.” Words like “cheesy” were also used. “We don’t mind being marketed to,” Crispin said. “We just don’t want to be marketed crap.”

By the second half the panel had settled down to the more general trading of suggestions: marketing to mobile phones, creating more lower-priced books and hiring more young people. “You’ve got to be one to know one,” Bergstrom said. There was one more fraught moment when Little, Brown’s Cindy Eagan raised objections to Simon Spotlight’s controversial oral sex-themed Rainbow Party–“I’m not that into it,” she said–and Bergstrom volleyed back that the message of the book was still a noble one. Bergstrom also said, perplexingly, that staffers at the house nix with a buzzer-sound any book that’s aimed at men. (link unavailable as of now — we’ll try to get one when the story is posted on the website)

We’re going to be honest — today we have had two conversations with “younger people”, both of whom had read or were reading The Da Vinci Code; it proved to us they were young and innocent. Neither expressed a particular interest in Philip Roth. Francine Prose did not come up. We blame our laziness for that particular oversight.

We are pleased to see that some constructive back-and-forth occurred (because everyone loves, loves, loves marketing and sending spam to cell phones is a surefire winner; yes, we can pretend they meant marketing utilizing cell phone technology, but that would be putting words in the PW reporter’s word processor).

* – Not enough drinking; lots of snarkiness

File Under: Publishers and Editors