“Can anyone compete with Amazon?"
During BookExpo America 2014 the last week of May, that headline splashed the big topic of the three-day book industry convention across the front page of Show Daily, the combination program-newspaper Publishers Weekly produces each day.
BEA draws more than 10,000 publishers, authors, booksellers, librarians and others in the book industry each year. In recent years, hot topics on the show floor at the Javits Convention Center have included e-books, self-publishing and books for young readers, but this year the buzz was all about the ongoing battle between Amazon, the 2,000-pound gorilla of online retail (41 percent of all new book purchases, 67 percent of digital book sales), and the Hachette Group, one of the Big Five publishing companies and home to such imprints as Grand Central and Little, Brown. Although details of the dispute between the two players are confidential (and representatives aren't talking), the main issue is likely e-book pricing: Amazon wants to muscle it lower.
The tactic that's at issue is Amazon's decision to remove preorder buttons for many upcoming Hachette books (which has a big impact on bestseller lists) and delay delivery by up to five weeks of some books already published, a move that has frustrated countless consumers and that has some bestselling Hachette authors affected by it unhappy.
Take James Patterson. At the Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards lunch, where he received an award for his support of independent bookstores, he said, "If Amazon's not a monopoly, it's the beginning of one. If this is to be the new American way, this has to be changed, by law if necessary."
Or St. Petersburg writer Michael Koryta, whose latest book, Those Who Wish Me Dead, was published June 3. On a panel of mystery writers, when author Sandra Brown said her mother had told her that the emotions of fear and sadness never had to be justified, Koryta cracked, "So I don't have to justify my feelings about Amazon?"
In other news, BEA added a whole day of events open to the public, and its 10,000 tickets sold out. BookCon, held on the convention's last day, was stocked with appearances by bestselling YA authors such as John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) and Veronica Roth (Divergent) as well as celebrity authors like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jason Segel and Mario Batali. That pitch to younger readers seemed to work, judging by the throngs of teens and 20-somethings on the show floor that day. One young man exclaimed, as he dove into a scrum reaching for galleys of a new edition of Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire, "It's just like ComicCon!"
As always, BEA featured book signings and talks by authors new and well-known. This year's roster included Florida's own Carl Hiaasen, pitching his fall book and first YA novel, Skink: No Surrender, as well as David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks), James Ellroy (Perfidia), Jane Smiley (Some Luck) and more.
Celebrity authors are a big draw for grownups, too. Hillary Clinton made a private appearance (no press allowed) to speak to booksellers about her memoir, Hard Choices, out Tuesday. Among celebrities appearing at this year's author breakfasts was actor Neil Patrick Harris, who pitched his memoir, written like the Choose Your Own Adventure kids' books. "I'm Neil Patrick Harris, and you can be, too!"
Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, got a huge laugh from an audience of booksellers when he said he and his wife were opening a bookstore in their hometown: "We're doing it to get rich!"
And Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO's Girls, talked about her upcoming memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. She was on a panel with actors Alan Cumming and Martin Short and novelist Colm Tóibín, and she kicked off her talk with her usual decorum: "What a great panel of guys! I've f----- them all, but I still feel empowered!"
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.