NOTE: Since I’m spending this week at BEA, my plan is to post a daily recap of my perceptions of this year’s event. Today – Tuesday – is the first day of the expo itself, so here is my review of yesterday’s Book Blogger Conference.
Several weeks ago, I wrote (here and here) about Reed Exhibitions’ stumbles and strategic missteps in the run-up to the 2012 Book Blogger Conference. Now that the event is over, a brief follow-up might be helpful.
The Weaknesses of BEA Book Blogger Con
On the whole, I was quite disappointed. I can look past communications screw ups (provided they get fixed). I can shrug off logistical blunders the day of an event. I can even tune out the occaisional poor speaker. But, as feared, Reed’s earlier missteps have proven where the organization’s priorities lie…and book bloggers do not make the cut.
The day started with an author/blogger networking breakfast. Tables were set up, and authors went on a “speed dating” trip…rotating between each table every fifteen or so minutes. The same setup was repeated for lunch. Speculative fiction – and generally fiction beyond YA – was woefully underrepresented. The morning literally had none, while the afternoon offered only two speculative fiction authors. While I was personally disappointed by SF’s absence, this part of the program did not bother me. It worked reasonably well, and likely provided value for the conference’s other attendees. I don’t mind being pitched when I expect it, and when the rest of my conference is goign to be full of insight into blogging practice.
But then we got to the keynote, which was presented by Jennifer Weiner, author of The Next Best Thing: A Novel. Weiner was an interesting (and for many book bloggers surprising) choice of keynote speaker: she is a popular author first, and a blogger second. What could she have to say that is both relevant to book bloggers and significant? In fairness, Weiner gave a good speech, and she made a herculean effort to focus on blogging. Yet it was clear to everyone in the room that she was there for one reason: to promote her upcoming book. The closing speaker, Jenny Lawson (a.k.a. the Bloggess), at least had a closer connection to the community…but she, too, was there to promote her recent book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir).
This was a common theme in much of the Book Bloggers Conference’s programming: it was skewed to align with the interests of authors/publishers in promoting their books to the book blogging community. I understand the motivation, and I understand the temptation: after all, publishers spend a lot of money on booths at BEA. The breakfast, the keynote, (to a lesser extent) the panel which followed, lunch, and the closing presentations all were oriented around pitching to the book blogging community. I for one regret having – apparently – spent $135 to be not-so-subtly pitched.
The Good amidst the Bad
Yet that being said, the day was not without value. Out of seven elements of the program, there were two which actually focused on the audience’s interest. The afternoon featured two breakout sessions, where we could each choose panels to sit in on that addressed either monetizing blogs, engaging community, critical review craft, or the publisher/blogger relationship. I sat in on the panels on monetizing and engaging community, and both were actually on-topic, interesting, and insightful. I walked away with at least one significant insight from each of these two panels. Had this ratio been maintained for the other program features, I would have been quite satisfied.
The Verdict: Reed Exhibitions Either Doesn’t Care About or Understand Book Bloggers
Unfortunately, $135 is a lot to spend for two insightful hours out of nine total. What I hoped for from the event was an in-depth discussion of blogging practice, offering relevant expertise from people who know whereof they speak. There was plenty of such expertise in the room. But – with the exception of the two panels I mentioned – there was terribly little on the program itself.
If this were an isolated incident – a programming snafu – it would be unfortunate, but reasonably acceptale. But this was not an isolated mistake: it is yet another indication of the conference organizer’s condescending attitude towards book bloggers. It leaves me to wonder: would critics for national news organizations get such treatment? Somehow, I think it unlikely. Other book bloggers, notably Read React Review and The Reading Ape, saw this coming. And I am sad to say that their fears were proven prescient.
If you are a book blogger, and if you were at the 2012 BEA Blogger Conference, you might have a different opinion. I know some people thought the conference was a valuable and enjoyable experience. But for me, it failed to provide the concrete insights I was looking for, and unless I see a dramatic improvement in Reed’s communications and programming, then I will skip it next year. Better to save my time and treasure for BEA itself.