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BEA’s Follow-up to the “Press Pass” Controversy

As I wrote yesterday, Reed Exhibitions (the organizers of Book Expo America) stirred up bit of controversy by unexpectedly and summarily rejecting press passes for a large swathe of book bloggers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many folks took to their keyboards with blog posts and tweets questioning both Reed’s decision and its handling (thanks everyone!). Today, BEA show director Steve Rosato posted an official response to this controversy over on The BEAN, and I urge everyone to take a look here.

Looking at this response, I have somewhat mixed opinions. As I said yesterday, my concerns were with the transparency of Reed’s criteria, the timing of their communication, and the broader implications suggested by both. So how does the official response score on these points?

First, I have to give them credit for recognizing that the timing/process of these press pass rejections was unfortunate. Since many bloggers (most of whom do it as a labor of love) have already shelled out cash for hotels and flights, it is encouraging that Rosato says:

For that we are very sorry and we apologize to those individuals (and are working with those individuals to resolve amicably in a way that will make sure they are able to still attend BEA).

What this means concretely, I don’t know. But it is an encouraging sign, and I’m pleased that BEA was able to both recognize that a mistake had been made, and to proactively try to address it. How they will do so, it is likely too early to know, but nonetheless this is encouraging.

On the transparency front, the post goes a little ways to help explain the criteria according to which press passes are issued. On the one hand, it is helpful that BEA lays out some of their criteria. It is a valid, and worthwhile step in the direction of transparency. And yet, I don’t think they’ve managed to actually achieve meaningful and helpful clarity.

Reading these criteria I don’t know if I qualify or not, and I imagine many book bloggers are in the same boat. Here’s a detailed breakdown of what does and doesn’t work about these “standards”:

BEA Criteria My Comments
No one under 18 years of age. This is great! It is clear, unequivocal, and absolutely unambiguous.
Professional editorial coverage of BEA in trade magazines, electronic media (TV, Radio, etc.), blogs, periodicals, etc. What does this mean? By “professional” does that mean that the journalist needs to be paid for it? Or does “professional” in this case imply a certain level of quality/professionalism? Would bloggers – most of whom are unpaid – be disqualified by this criteria?
Subject Matter & Focus A good, common sense criterion. If the journalist doesn’t write about books or publishing, why should they go to BEA?
Content Update Frequency A good criterion to judge on, but what’s the cut-off? Does someone who writes a monthly column not make the cut? What about (like me) a weekly columnist? What matters more: frequency or regularity?
Community & Traffic Also a reasonable criterion. Someone who is only read by their pet cat might not be right for a press pass. But what level of readership sets the cut-off and according to whose numbers? The bloggers’ own? comScore? Nielsen Online? Alexa? Compete? For print, you’ve got the ABC, MRI, and a host of other sources. I know book bloggers with the kind of traffic that I’d love who got rejected while others (much smaller) got through.

Overall, I’m encouraged by BEA’s response to this issue. They’ve at least recognized that a problem exists, and are trying to address the community’s concerns. But if BEA wants to maintain good relations with the book blogging world, I’d suggest that they make their criteria less ambiguous.

BEA Press Pass Standards Still a bit Translucent

Transparency and translucency aren’t the same at all, and as it stands I find their criteria a little translucent…which is still an improvement over opaque.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. mandikaye #

    It’s more than just not qualifying as press. For those of us who had paid the $135 for the BBC and were told that book bloggers who do so also get a BEA pass… well it turns out there are qualifications for “book blogger” that we do not meet. The BEA Customer Rep I spoke to was unable to tell me what those qualifications are.

    April 6, 2012
    • Yeah, I just discovered this new dimension to the screw up a few minutes ago (I didn’t remember the terms of registering for the BBC). I get the impression that: (a) the BEA Press team didn’t coordinate with the BBC team, and (b) customer service never got any clear policy information whatsoever. It’s both a media relations fail, and an internal management fail.

      The smart play for BEA would have been to get in front of this and say “Sorry, our mistake. Those who applied for passes have been approved.” The ambiguity and compounded inconsistency is just exacerbating the problem.

      I’m hopeful that when they realize that they’re in breach of their own terms, they’ll get this corrected.

      April 6, 2012
  2. NOTE: Here’s a great history of their BBC policy from the comment thread at BEA’s response. They’ve clearly screwed up the implementation of their own (published) policy, so they’ll have to get this mess sorted out.

    April 6, 2012

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  1. BEA 2012 (Day 0): The Book Blogger Conference | The King of Elfland's Second Cousin

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