Thursday, June 30, 2011

HBW vs. BEA, or, Am I missing something?

Every year around the end of May, the book blogging world is abuzz with news about BEA: bloggers reporting that they're attending, bloggers reporting that they aren't, literary magazines condemning or praising the events, librarians excited, booksellers eager, publishers nervous... everyone is talking about this one single event: Book Expo America.

But for me, the end of May symbolizes the start of June, and thus the approaching Hebrew Book Week (HBW). Suddenly I realize that the publishers are getting ready. Suddenly I realize that it's been a while since I last purchased a book. Suddenly it's time to do my homework and figure out what I'm going to buy this year.

For the past three years, it's been difficult not to compare the two book-related events in my mind. Though I've never attended BEA, I've been able to build a pretty good image of what it must look like, based in part on blog posts and summaries. Meanwhile, I attend HBW with the enthusiasm and obsessiveness only a rare few can match. The comparison is difficult to make - the book cultures in Israel and the U.S. are completely different - but also somewhat necessary. Here is the difference. Here is the true literary world.

HBW is for everyone. BEA isn't. It doesn't matter if almost anyone who really wants to go and can afford it can find a way in. It's exclusive. It's a localized, exclusive event for a very specific group of people. HBW is wonderful in its diversity - children, teens, adults, the elderly, the religious, the secular, the foreigners, the techies, the nerds, the intellectuals, the bored... There is no clear definition of an HBW attendee because it's just an Israeli. While the prospect of attending BEA is mildly appealing (if only for the free books), the impression I get of the environment and the vibe is of a lot of industry insiders. Which isn't a bad thing. It's just not for me. HBW is.

I'm not trying to take away from the BEA experience by saying this, but the diversity thing has always been my problem with it. It's a publisher event in one location for one group of people. Part of the experience demands of the reader to a) live nearby or spend money to get into town, b) pay for registering, and c) be part of the culture BEA wants to maintain (one that supports publishers through indirect advertising). Not all of this is bad, but it's the complete opposite of HBW. Instead of bringing books to everyone, BEA wants everyone who helps publishers to come to them. Something about that rubs me the wrong way.

I've never been to BEA, but a lot of you have. Obviously there may be many things I'm missing. My impressions from HBW have always been positive, of this grand event that does something completely normal (bookselling), but in a way that not only profits all the publishers (small and large alike), but also consumers. It's an experience anyone and everyone can take part in (and close to half of the country does, so what does that say?) and it really is just fun. In my mind, HBW wins every year hands down but who knows? Maybe I'm missing something.

June 25th: You are now leaving HBW... see you next year!

4 comments:

  1. I think something about BEA that gets a little bit...I don't want to say "glossed over," but something like that, is that it's really and truly and industry trade show (says the girl who has also never been). So many book blogging folks are related to the industry somehow, whether they're in publishing or booksellers or librarians, and the related Book Blogger Convention brings many others closer to that fold as well. I'm not uninterested in the publishing industry, or what's coming out today, or what publishing houses are doing, but I'm very much not a part of it either, and don't really want to be. So I think I feel like more of an outsider with respect to these things than a lot of bloggers currently do.

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  2. Hebrew Book Week sounds like a wonderful event. BEA is fun but it's not for everyone.

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  3. I've never been to BEA, but I'm guessing the trade show aspect of it would bother me. I'm not really interested in interacting with publishers much. I would like it for the chance to meet other bloggers, though. It has the potential to be a fun social event.

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