Some Trade Show Observations
After trooping around the exhibit floor of the Christian Booksellers Association trade show for a number of years, it’s easy to grow numb about the event. I’ve been attending this event for at least 15 years. I’ve actually lost track of how many I’ve attended. Someone told me that Jerry B. Jenkins has attended 31 straight years. Each year, the meetings seem to pass in a blur and I return home with a stack of business cards from old friends and many new ones. I love the opportunity to meet with people face to face and make a personal connection. It’s one of the huge benefits of attending this closed trade show. The event gives you the opportunity to accomplish some things that can’t be accomplished in any other setting—so it has value.
In this entry about the writing life, I want to note some of the things I picked up from the event. First, attendance from retailers was down. The bookseller press will try to spin this information in a positive way but there were fewer green badges on the floor. The green badges are the retailers or booksellers or the book buyers. No matter what type of schedule I have to attend the event as an author or editor, these retailers are key. They are the core audience for the event. I wore a yellow badge or an exhibitor badge. There were over 400 exhibitors at this event and each exhibitor had authors, sales people, editors and others to bring to the event. The shuttle buses to the convention center, the hotel elevator and even the convention floor itself was light in volume of people—particularly people with the green badges of a retailer.
On the shuttle, I struck up a conversation with a bookstore owner from central Indiana. In years past, he used to own two different bookstores but now he’s cut back to one store. We talked about the intense competition in this retail market and the difficulty to keep your business going. He admitted holding his own with his numbers for the first quarter “only down 2%.” I didn’t say anything to this retailer but it didn’t bode well for the future.
Exhibitors can enter the convention floor before the retailers. As a general practice, I like to arrive at the convention floor just prior to the opening of the floor for retailers. I’ve found the atmosphere much calmer inside and you can easily reach your booth for the first meeting of the day. Often I’ve had to work hard to reach the entrance to the convention hall. In years past, eager retailers jammed the door clutching the show newspaper and prepared to march on the floor right when the floor opened. Yet this year, it was easy to reach the entrance and I didn’t have to struggle to reach this entrance. The retailers were sparse.
Several years ago, the Christian Booksellers Association changed the name of the event to the International Christian Retail Show. The new name indicates a different emphasis—and a move away from books. Yes, the CBA folks will deny it but look at the difference in the old name and the new name and it’s pretty obvious. A quick walk through parts of the exhibit floor will also show you the rise of the gift product. The gift vendors are grouped together and the book publishers are in a different area of the floor. One publishing executive who had never been to this trade show commented on the “stuff” as she walked to our booth (which was in the rear of the hall). It’s just one more indicator of the event to me.
Another publishing executive told about years ago when their publishing company depended on this trade show for something like 10% of their overall book orders. It is simply not the case at the current event. I saw numerous sales people standing around or sitting at their order desks with no one there. In years past, I’ve seen these sales people completely booked with a continual string of key meetings.
Does the event have value? Absolutely it has value from my perspective. It gave me an opportunity to meet numerous authors and interact with literary agents. Yet I wonder what the future holds for these types of poorly attended trade shows?