ALA 2011 Exhibit Notes

I focused on exhibits during ALA Annual 2011, in addition to personal and business meetings. Given the book I’m working on, I was talking to self-publishers, small presses and distributors for independent publishers, but also noting exhibitors who seemed to have something unusual going on—and a few seeming trends in the exhibits as a whole.

Smith & Press (www.smithandpress.com)

This very small publisher produces new versions of very early books—the first offering being Hartmann Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum or Nuremberg Chronicle from 1493—a copy in the private collection of the publisher’s owner. They were showing all three versions being produced: A full-size facsimile limited to 100 copies, hand-bound in an astonishing binding made using the same materials and methods as the original (and costing several thousand dollars), a reference edition facsimile (85% size, 16.25×11.5″, on 70lb. paper in burgundy cloth binding, priced at $369), and an English translation with side-by-side facsimile and translation pages, issued in three volumes at $225 to $325 each (the first two volumes are currently available).

It’s clearly a labor of love, with superb handmade paper for the full-size facsimile and first-rate book paper for all three versions. Here’s the interesting part: The books are printed on…inkjet printers, namely large-format archival printers. (They’re thinking of doing a letterpress version of the full-size facsimile, but note that at that point they’ll have to use watermarks and other means to make it clear that this is a facsimile, not a forgery.)

Fascinating stuff. Beautiful paper, beautiful workmanship, an interesting blend of analog and digital tools.

Self-Publishers

I talked to a number of first-time exhibitors selling self-published books—or, in one case, selling books published by iUniverse.

I asked the iUniverse author for an honest opinion—and got it. The author would never, ever work with the company again—something I’ve heard previously from iUniverse, AuthorHouse and other similar “publishers” who charge hefty up-front fees.

On the other hand, a couple of authors using Outskirts Press were fairly happy with the services. That may not be surprising—while Outskirts is still selling packages, they’re more reasonably priced, and the company seems somewhat more upfront about what they do and don’t do.

Some self-publishers use CreateSpace or Lulu; they were uniformly positive about the experience and understood exactly what they were getting. I was informed of at least one more university press that is now using Lulu as its actual print provider, focusing the press itself on ebooks.

Then there’s PublishAmerica, which was there and whose representative made it appear to be a plausible alternative to Lulu and CreateSpace as a pure-play service provider, with no upfront costs. When I checked a little, I remembered PublishAmerica: It’s a peculiar situation, but not in any way comparable to Lulu or CreateSpace and generally, shall we say, not well-loved by its former authors. I picked up a few books at the exhibit and noted the same truly odd statement on the copyright page of each one, stating that the author’s words had not been changed at all. Since when is total lack of copy editing seen as a good thing? Yes, the author should have the final say, but as someone who’s published more than a dozen books (not including self-published books), I question whether there really are authors whose prose is so superb that it can’t benefit from judicious editing. If there are, I’m guessing they’re not publishing through PublishAmerica.

Small Publishers, Independent Publishers and Distributors

What’s an independent publisher? When I asked that of one distributor, the answer basically boiled down to “everybody but the Big Six”—or, a little more restrictively, every publisher that’s not part of a conglomerate. Chronicle Books? Yes, an independent publisher. Hyperion (part of Disney)? A tougher question.

The definition of small publisher is also getting interesting, given the growing number of publishers that rely on services like CreateSpace and Lulu for actual book production and, in many cases, fulfillment. This is, in my opinion, both a good thing and one of the trends that’s likely to grow in the mixed ebook/pbook future.

Here’s an interesting item: Boom! Studios, an independent publisher, publishes lots of Disney books (collected comic books and others). Disney itself has a Book Group, including Hyperion and several other imprints—but happily licenses some of its creations to other publishers.

Oddities and Trends

Why all the jewelry booths? For that matter, who would be buying sheets—bedsheets, that is—at an ALA annual conference? T-shirts I’m used to, and the vaguely creepy statuary, but it seemed as though there were more jewelry booths than I remember.

I was a little bemused by the Library Ideas, LLC booth. The flagship product is the Freegal Music Service—which I tend to think of as being a Sony product. Mysterious…

I was also impressed or bemused by the number of exhibitors showing book scanners (at least five, and I think that count is too low) and, a different group, book vending machines (I saw at least four, and again I think that’s a partial count). At least four exhibitors offer open-source library system support; that’s a good thing and suggests that the open-source systems (Koha, Evergreen and others) are doing well.

How many online catalogs and integrated library system vendors are out there? For many years, I’ve felt that the answer was the same as life, the universe and everything: 42 (give or take 10%). That still feels about right. Depending on how you add up numbers in the exhibitors index, there are at least 35 such vendors—and I’m pretty sure that’s not all-inclusive.

Then there’s furniture—at least 18 exhibitors—and the vast empty spaces found in so many of the furniture booths and, when I was in the exhibits (almost all day Saturday and about half of Sunday), most very large exhibit spaces (other than book publishers). I’m not sure what to make of this. Furniture vendors need to show their wares, of course. For others, perhaps some of the booths are a bit grander than they need to be.

Which brings me to the “who is this?” issue—booths that I think are badly designed for the exhibit hall. Specifically, booths where the primary or only corporate name display is on one of those really high hanging structures, signs that seem to be at least 18 feet up in the air. In the case of one furniture vendor, I could not identify the vendor when I was at the booth—I had to back away at least 20-30 feet and look up. Yes, I know, drama and all that—but perhaps self-defeating.

Closing Notes

The exhibits were an odd blend of crowded spaces and near-empty aisles, but I think that’s typical. Biggest crowds: As always, book publishers, especially those giving away advance reading copies. But there were also quite a few booths that seemed to have more booth staff than visitors, and a few where the booth staff seemed wholly engrossed in their own conversations, ignoring people passing by. (OK, if I’d been a potential customer instead of some random guy, maybe they would have snapped to attention. Maybe not.)

Trends? You want trends from a library conference exhibit hall? If so, you’ve come to the wrong place.

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