Friday, January 31, 2014

Discussion: ALAMW vs BEA

I am, as many of you know, a long time devotee of Book Expo America (BEA).  I'm going on my 7th visit this year and I'm loving every second.  That said I've always wanted to see what the American Library Association (ALA)'s conference was like.  I heard different things from different people after all.  Some say its very much like BEA just quieter.  Some say its more crowded.  Others claim there are less books.  Still others claim more.

So I thought I'd run through my experiences as a comparison for anyone who was thinking which may be a better fit if your budget only allows one.  Few things to keep in mind:
  • I attended ALA Midwinter, not the Annual Conference. 
  • ALA moves venue to venue, BEA (until 2016) doesn't move
Also for another attendees take please visit Jamie @ Perpetual Page-Turner's blog, she has a good run down as well!

BEA (or Book Expo America) is a publishing industry event targeted towards booksellers (primarily, this used to be ABA's Conference before it was rebranded) and media outlets.  In recent years "media" has broadened to include bloggers, which has been a boon to us all.  Educators and Librarians are also in attendance and dozens upon dozen upon dozens of authors.  For many BEA is a chance for booksellers, especially independent ones, to network to increase their presence. 

ALA (or American Librarian Association) is an industry event specifically targeted for educators and librarians.  They have two conferences--the "Midwinter" meeting and the "Annual" meeting, roughly six months apart.  As I've only attended the Midwinter I can't speak to the Annual event, but as I understand it the Annual event is much larger and that is when the awards ceremonies are held.  Also its more crowded.  As many of you know I hate detest loathe crowds. Midwinter was, excuse this horrible pun given the weather during ALAMW this year, much more chill then Annual ever is.

My Experience

I'll say it now, so don't bite the messenger, but I had at ALAMW then I tend to at BEA.  I was able to chat with the publishers/exhibitors quite a bite more, I was able to safely navigate the aisles, and I was even able to go to a couple of sessions without fearing that I would lose out on a chance to talk to someone.

I was also way less stressed.  My schedule is notorious for being insane, I've heard people whistling "Gotta Catch'em All" when I walk by in fact.  ALAMW I had no schedule to speak of.  Oh I had a couple things written down that I wanted to check out at certain times, but overall I was just wandering to and fro.  Granted I did hunker down for some of the Book Buzz sessions and a couple of Publisher meetings, once I saw them in the program, but I wasn't anywhere near BEA levels.

I approached ALAMW differently then I do BEA I think.  BEA I expect to have no time, except when in loooong lines for signings, to talk to people.  I expect the reps I want to talk to, to be booked like crazy so I won't see them until the evening events.  I expect my friends to be booked like crazy.  ALAMW I knew none of my reps would be present (though a couple were surprising me!) so I took more time to talk to new people. 

I spoke with quite a few exhibitors--shout out to Mango Languages and to Innovative Interfaces for being some of the most fun to talk with, found a really cool Library Related Web Comics (hello Unshelved you lovely lovely comic) and got to talk with authors for longer then five seconds (Bee Ridgway, Kate Quinn & Lisa T. Bergren). 

I think where ALAMW really hooked me was the large array of non-YA books available.  I love YA, I read a lot of YA, but I also read a lot of not YA.  BEA can sometimes seem very YA heavy in terms of authors and books available.  ALAMW didn't have this problem.  I found quite a few non-YA genre books, you can check out my ALAMW14 shelf on Goodreads to see what I got.  It was so nice to see books like this.

I did not, most emphatically did not, miss the crowd issues.  ALAMW was way less crowded and I only waited in ONE line that could be anywhere near considered a BEA line.

I did like that I could buy books from the publishers.  I picked up a few hardcover books that I have wanted for like ever for $5 each--when the book is ordinarily $27.99 or more that is really really nice

Publishers were also willing to discuss what they were looking forward to.  At the Penguin booth there was a couple reps who would ask for a title or author you like and then hand you books from the stacks of ARCs they had that they felt were good fits for what you previously enjoyed.  At the HarperCollins booth I had a lovely chat with a rep about all the Wonderland and Oz re-imaginings coming out in this year (TV, movie and book form) that was sparked by my victory dance over receiving Dorothy Must Die.

This isn't to say they won't discuss at BEA, but so much of their time is taken up by people requesting meetings or folks nabbing ARCs in huge droves (instead of orderly hordes like at ALAMW) that I think they get a bit flustered.

BEA is however my first and lasting love.  I like meeting new bloggers, which wasn't something I had too much experience with at ALAMW.  By in large the bloggers I saw/ran into were ones I knew already.  There was also far less for me to do after the event ended itself.  Oh I got to hang out with my friends (which is always a plus), but I rather missed the mad dash to get changed and then head up town to a publisher party.

How do you feel?  Do you think that ALAMW and BEA are comparable?  Have you been to the annual ALA?