Publishers Weekly’s Virtual Book Show To Replace Retired BookExpo

When show organizer ReedPop announced in December 2020 that it would be retiring its family of major publishing trade shows—BookExpo, BookCon, and UnBound—Publishers Weekly (PW) saw an opportunity to organize its own event. Working quickly after ReedPop’s announcement, PW leadership conceived and created the U.S. Book Show, a virtual conference for the global bookselling and book publishing industry that will debut from May 25–27.

Publishers Weekly logoWhen show organizer ReedPop announced in December 2020 that it would be retiring its family of major publishing trade shows—BookExpo, BookCon, and UnBound—Publishers Weekly (PW) saw an opportunity to organize its own event. Working quickly after ReedPop’s announcement, PW leadership conceived and created the U.S. Book Show, a virtual conference for the global bookselling and book publishing industry that will debut from May 25–27.

Although there will be no face-to-face gathering, the U.S. Book Show will feature many similar components to BookExpo: author events aimed at librarians and booksellers; professional development programming geared to publishers and literary agents; and exhibitor booths. Virtual booths will be available to vendors on a sliding scale “meant to attract displays from a range of vendors, from small presses to midsize imprints, university presses, sideline producers, distributors, library data providers and the largest publishers.”

PW announced the new book fair’s launch on January 8 and received hundreds of inquiries by the end of day. “The U.S. Book Show fills a void left in the U.S. book publishing industry,” said EVP and Publisher Cevin Bryerman in a statement. “Publishers Weekly has the experience, 150 years of book industry expertise, and dedication to excellence in producing this virtual book show.”



BookExpo, together with its offshoots BookCon and UnBound, was an industry-wide show bringing publishers, vendors, booksellers, buyers, and librarians together in large venues such as New York City’s Jacob Javits Center every year in late May. As the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic loomed in in March 2020, ReedPop realized that the in-person event would be impossible to hold in its regular time slot—not only was gathering forbidden, but the Javits Center had been repurposed as a field hospital—and rescheduled the show for late July. But it was soon evident that the coronavirus would continue to pose a threat through the summer, and the plan was changed again—this time to a free virtual event, held during its original dates of May 26–31.

The revamped programming was made available on Facebook and other social media platforms, and included speakers, panels, author Q&As, e-galley giveaways, and other virtual features. The new format did not perform as ReedPop had hoped, however, and the company announced on December 1, 2020, that because of the “continued uncertainty surrounding in-person events,” it would retire the show and explore new options. (ReedPop will continue to host the BookCon Facebook page.)

“Right after BookExpo decided to be retired, we felt there was going to be a hole,” PW Editorial Director Jim Milliot told LJ. Despite declining attendance and exhibitor numbers over the past few years, “it still drew 20,000-some people and it was the only place where the trade industry and all its many facets could get together.”

Because ReedPop’s announcement came only a few weeks before the 2020 holiday season. PW planners needed to work quickly. After a few internal conversations, it was decided to stay with the show’s original timing at the end of May, since other events such as the London Book Fair, Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and virtual American Library Association Annual meeting had already been scheduled for June and early July, and publishers were wondering how to build further buzz for fall books. Digital marketer Edelweiss by Above the Treeline announced the launch of its own publishing event, Edelweiss Bookfest, on December 29. “There were a lot of green lights,” said Milliot, “so we decided that this is what we were going to try to do.”

PW Senior Marketing Director (and former LJ Director of Events and Professional Development) Krista Rafanello is leading the show effort, but the event is a collaborative effort, with Milliot leading the programming and public relations and PW’s marketing, digital, and sales departments contributing as well.

Right away, PW knew it wanted to include panels for publishers and booksellers, and an option for publisher pitches. A virtual show floor was “almost a no-brainer,” said Milliot. Equally important, he noted, will be a strong networking component. “We've all gone to virtual events, and some work better than others,” he told LJ. “We're really going to try our best to create a sense of networking. That's what we think has been missing from some of these other things.”

It will be close to a year and a half since people have gotten together for an in-person event, he added, “so we know there's some pent-up demand to try to network and just chat.” PW has selected 6Connex Virtual Environments as the show’s platform.

The U.S. Book Show won’t duplicate every facet of the BookExpo experience, however—there is no plan, at present, to market to bloggers or hold the equivalent of the consumer-facing BookCon in this first iteration, nor will there be a component similar to the New York Rights Fair.

“It's a bit more of a targeted approach,” said Milliot. For starters, PW plans to help bring attention to some of the titles in its fall preview issue. “Discoverability is such a big issue, and we review a lot of books,” he explained. “It's our chance to help pinpoint what things we think are going to work, to combine that with panels that we hope will highlight what's going on in the industry and trends going forward. It's got to be different, obviously, in a virtual world, but we're trying to address some of the issues virtually all attendees have.”

There will be bookseller- and library-focused content, split between adult and children’s programming, as well as buzz panels featuring editors’ and PW picks and Zoom author interviews. PW will put out a preview issue beforehand and provide a digital issue daily during the show.

Programming will probably take place for four hours daily, rather than a full day. “People can pick and choose,” he said. “I don't think they have the bandwidth to stay on an event seven hours a day.”

Events will be smaller as well. “We're not going to do something on the scale of BookExpo,” noted Milliot. “I'm not sure anybody in the industry has an appetite to do that. But we would definitely do something on a smaller scale. Because what you constantly heard from people talking about what they would like to see is just that—a place to go where you can network, where you can meet all parts of the industry, but at a cheaper cost.”

And while this year’s show has been planned as completely virtual, if the vaccine rollout is successful and in-person gatherings are safe by May, PW would consider holding a party as an add-on to the event. “But that would be the cherry on top,” said Milliot.

PW, along with any future partners, will evaluate the success of the U.S. Book Show and determine the need and desire for a live, in-person show in 2022. The virtual format will remain going forward so that far-flung participants can still attend; 2020’s virtual BookExpo attracted more people than its in-person shows. The virtual format “opens up the doors to a lot of people,” said Bryerman. “They don't have to travel, and they can participate.”

“We're serving a need,” Bryerman told LJ. “I believe, through our conversations with editors and outside people, that publishers will miss BookExpo and they need to find a way to create buzz, awareness and sales for their forthcoming titles—I think that's the biggest struggle with COVID going on, how you create a buzz with bookstores and librarians reinventing themselves or trying to figure out what their next steps are.”

Registration for the U.S. Book Show is now open. Qualified librarians, library board trustees and members, and booksellers can purchase a ticket good for all events for $35. Special pricing is also available to independent publishers and nonprofits; group rates are available as well. All editorial programming, author discussions, exhibits, and keynote addresses are included in the ticket price. A portion of the proceeds will go to library and book nonprofit organizations. More news about the event can be found at #USBookShow.

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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