Is the BEA Bloggers Con Dead on Arrival (Updated)?

The Book Blogger Convention was founded in 2010 by Trish Collins of Hey Lady! Watcha Readin’? and Michelle Franz of Galleysmith. The Book Blogger Con was an event run by bloggers, for bloggers for two years prior to being purchased by Reed Exhibitions, operators of Book Expo America and other trade shows. The first BBC had 200 attendees, and grew to 340 the next year.

I was looking forward to attending BBC, but was a bit puzzled when the purchase by Reed was announced in January with no details. There were lots of congratulations, but I was really surprised nobody asked what it meant for the event. This post and the comments at Collins’ blog are representative:

We are confident in the direction that Reed will take the Book Blogger Convention, and we feel they will be able to do things with it that we were unable to do, either because we didn’t have the resources or we didn’t have the time.

For many of us, registration was complicated and nightmarish, necessitating a February post dedicated to explaining how to do it (which was so unclear that a fellow BEA employee had to further clarify in a long comment). After registering, I was immediately spammed on a near daily basis with invitations to a webinar on, of all things, Google+. Author Jennifer Weiner was announced as the keynote speaker, a choice that raised eyebrows for a range of reasons.

Edited to add: And Weiner has weighed in, introducing her own point of view, and the possibility of an anti-BEA plot from the Friday Reads/Book Riot folks (who, it seems are taking the leads in organizing the un con):

 

There was a blogger focus group that … wasn’t very focused on bloggers, according to one participant:

Eventually, in early March, an agenda was announced… with no details as to who would sit on the panels. I emailed to ask when details would be forthcoming and received no response. The topics seemed quite generic and unexciting to me, and others, but might look more promising if I knew who the speakers were:

 

Today, I received a form email asking me to register for the attendees list, which required me to give my blog stats:

 

The reaction was swift and negative on Twitter,

***

And this is what the page looks like now:

Some observers asked whether this was inevitable:

Fed up, several bloggers asked for refunds, and an unconference, spearheaded by Jeff O’Neal of The Reading Ape, is in the works, with many prominent bloggers showing support both in the comments over there and on Twitter.

One of the organizers of original BBC, Rebecca Joines Schinksy, of Book Lady’s Blog, has posted:

I was involved in planning both of the previous Book Bloggers Conventions, and I loved the “for us, by us” feel. I was not involved in the sale of the Book Bloggers Conventions to BEA; in fact, I wasn’t aware of it at all prior to the public announcement.

In the months since that announcement, I’ve developed concerns about the direction the event is going and about the fact that the programming of this year’s agenda seems more focused on allowing publishers and authors to get in front of bloggers than on creating a day of education to benefit bloggers. Why would I want to pay to spend a day being marketed to?

Other bookish folks have picked up the story, and who knows what will happen from here:

Count me as one of those disappointed with how things are turning out. I support an unconference for any reason people want to have it, whether the point is just to have a smaller alternative gathering, a la Book Camp, or to mount a principled rejection of what’s on offer at BEA Bloggers Con. I am one of those bloggers who is not so interested in relationships with publishers, making a career of my blog, and the like, and I was starting to feel like “my kind” would be marginalized at the event. I have to wonder, if the backlash gets worse, what bloggers will even be willing to sit on panels at BEA’s Blogger Con?

But I don’t think all hope is lost, yet.  I strongly encourage the folks at BEA to start listening to bloggers, which requires, you know, actually being available to us (and NOT just asking us to follow you on Twitter, like your damn Facebook page, or give you our stats). It will be sad if this pits bloggers against each other (con versus uncon), the very opposite of the spirit of community, friendship, and shared love of books the original Book Blogger Con was launched to foster.

Updated:  A conference organizer, Joe Vella has responded to questions at Reading Ape.

29 responses

  1. I had no idea things were getting that bad about the conference, but then, I’ve never been to a blogger conference and wasn’t aware of what to expect in the first place.

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  2. I was concerned something like this might happen when I learned the conference had been sold to Reed. BEA is a marketing expo, so it shouldn’t be a surprise Reed is approaching BBC from a marketing viewpoint rather than a professional conference, which is what it’s supposed to be. The “unconference” will probably turn out to be more of a proper conference than BBC at this point.

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  3. Oh, man! Was I glad to read this post and know that I am not the only one who has serious misgivings about the BEA Blogger Con.
    Registering was a nightmare. I tried the Live Help, I called, and I posted questions on The Bean, the official BEA blog, and no one could answer my questions. Not only that, the left hand didn’t seem to know what the right hand was doing.
    Despite all that, I registered anyway as editorial media and was approved.
    During the registration, I was asked if I would like to have my blog info included in the BEA participant info-something and I checked no. I had no confidence in this organization and I wasn’t about to give my permission for then to use my info for anything. I feel the same way about this email.
    I’m not real impressed with the panel topics. I was hoping for more diversity. Like you, I am not interested in blogging as a career and I am ambivalent about fostering a relationship with publishers.
    I’m still going and while I won’t say it is going to suck, I do feel that it is a legitimate possibility.
    Let’s hope I am wrong.

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  4. I knew something was off when it came to be January and no announcement of the keynote speaker or mention of any panels. And then when it was announced the Reed, who runs BEA “bought” BBC, a “aha!” moment went off in my head.

    I will say that Reed has done a fabulous job running BEA. I’ve gone twice already and overall my experience has been great. I’d like to think the same regarding the blogger con. I think the miscommunication is ridiculous, including the prices. Some only pay $65 for blogger con+BEA because they bought their admission before Reed took over the blogger con. Some get to pay $130 if they’re lucky to be considered media and then some have to pay double because they might not have the qualifications Reed considers for “media” with no real explanation.

    Also Reed and BEA are in it for making money and are corporate. That’s why I think they asked about unique visitors and monthly visitors in order to give these stats to publishers and other vendors who are spending thousands of dollars to attend BEA. Those running BEA have no clue what book blogger is all about. For some blogging is a hobby and not a “job”. We do it for the love and don’t follow corporate rules or that environment. BEA should really have asked a few bloggers to help them with blogger con or have a main spokesperson in the blogging community to make this run smoother.

    Also nothing against Jennifer Weiner, but the bloggers that attend BEA (from what I’ve seen) are mainly genre fiction bloggers such as YA, sci-fi and romance. I don’t understand why another keynote speaker like John Green who uses social media very well or The Bloggess, who has a book out this year was chosen.

    Everything seems very murky, but I would like to think the blogger con will work out in the long run.

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  5. I have reservations about attending BEA this year. Last year I received a media pass and was grateful to get one. I applied gave my blog info and my stats which I didn’t have a problem with as I was applying for a free pass. I was approved immediately. The same thing happened this year. But then I got an email asking me for further info and it was a lot.
    I was asked :
    -How many readers I have and who are they?
    -tell a little more about myself and my organization
    -exactly how I plan to cover BEA as a working member of the press
    -Have I been to BEA before?
    -Do I have previous clips of my coverage?

    Now that is quite a bit of asking and guess what I provided the answers and the clips from my blog and a from Heroes and Heartbreakers.

    I did not receive any reply as to if I was still approved. I sent a follow up. I still have not received a reply so I don’t know if at this point I will show up at the door and be turned away.

    Funny thing is I have received since then an invite to register and pay for the book bloggers conference. SMH.

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  6. Sorry that this is going to be off-topic: My jaw is seriously hanging in shock. I’m surprised that BEA expects the media to pay for their BEA press passes.

    Last time I checked, a journalist (freelance or not) doesn’t pay for a press pass at an event, not even an industry trade. Just present the required proof of a mag (or whatever they work for) that should satisfy the event organiser or PR enough to issue a press pass, or decline if they think the mag or whatever won’t give their event enough media exposure to justify the press pass and kit.

    Fair enough, things may be different in the US. Even so, it’s crazy. Getting a journalist to pay for a press pass is similar to getting a reviewer to pay a publisher for a review copy.

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  7. “I am one of those bloggers who is not so interested in relationships with publishers, making a career of my blog, and the like, and I was starting to feel like “my kind” would be marginalized at the event.”

    But aren’t the majority of bloggers like that? I mean, I didn’t start my blog to make a career of it or for money, I didn’t even expect to get free books, which came as lovely surprise and a fantastic perk, but I could do without. And I’m under the impression that most bloggers are like that, so maybe the folks over at BEA have misunderstood what bloggers are all about, they are focusing their attention on blogs instead of bloggers. I think they see blogs as tools and means to an end -in this case selling books- and fail to see that the person behind the blog may not consider their blogs as a book-selling tool at all.

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  8. “I wonder did Ron Hogan get any answers to his questions re whether or not BEA asked for “stats” from bookshop owners and publishers?”

    They were largely rhetorical, so I wasn’t expecting any, but one person from a publishing company did indicate that they might in fact ask for that kind of… well, I probably shouldn’t say “personal” information, since we’re talking about corporations… ah, proprietary — that’s the word I’m looking for.

    I guess I just felt that we were pretty much over the whole “judging a blog by its raw numbers” mindset; in the context of registering for a conference like this, it feels a bit like being asked how big your salary is on the first date. So I’m glad to see they eliminated those questions.

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  9. Ron, thanks for answering that! I’m a little confused then as to what the objective of asking those kinds of questions was. Isn’t the BEA conference technically for publishers and associated professionals to network? Why would it matter what their numbers were so long as they could pay for their booth space?

    Like you say, though, it’s good the Qs were eliminated eventually.

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  10. It doesn’t seem like an open process, and I think that’s what’s bothering a lot of bloggers…it seems that the blogger convention is now an afterthought to BEA. I also wonder who will be sitting on the blogger panels at BEA; I haven’t seen any requests for panel topics or panelists, like you would with other “writer” conventions in which you can propose certain panel topics.

    I also wonder what will be at the uncon. And why don’t we do an online conference for bloggers?

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  11. @Maili: Generally, I’ve found that press passes are given free to those who are covering the BEA event for a newspaper or a media outlet with an editorial board, but most book bloggers may cover the event but do not have an editorial board to be “gatekeeper” to vet the facts in the articles on the event.

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  12. Presumably Reed wants to make $$ off this event – so having a convoluted registration process and then not being forthcoming on, you know, who is going to be speaking at the event is pretty messed up. Sane people, before forking over a decent chunk of change (especially in this economy!), want to know what they are signing up for, and paying for, beforehand. That’s just logic.

    But other than that? It’s hard for me to get my panties in a bunch over this. Bloggers aren’t as easy to fit into a box as say, librarians and booksellers. Part of this is our own fault. I’m sorry, it is. On one hand we say we do it for the love of reading, we want to inform and share with other readers – but many of us also want the publishers to fork over freebies and ARCs. Just hand over the goods toots, but stay out of our way and don’t tell us what to do. There’s a lot about the publishing industry right now that irritates the hell out of me (two words: libraries and digital), but they can’t win for losing in this situation. And many of us muddy the waters by saying one thing, and sticking out our hand at the same time.

    Look, they’re in the business of making money. They also want to see something in return for ARCs/promo/giveaway items exiting their doors. So exactly why is everyone always shocked when something like this crops up? We want people to take bloggers seriously, to see us as “vital” and “important” and maybe even a “force.” And then we get ticked off when publishers want to tie a pretty lil’ marketing bow around us. Well of course they do! We’re word-of-mouth! It’s like that old commercial, she tells a friend and then she tells a friend and then she tells a friend…… My blog only reaches a handful of people, but who knows what that handful is then going out and passing along to people who don’t know I exist. Of course publishers want to harness that – hence you have this latest drama.

    So yeah, I’m just not sure why people are surprised. I do think Reed could definitely be handling this whole thing loads better – but as bloggers we have a choice on whether or not we want to attend a pro-style event. Don’t like it? Vote with your dollars.

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  13. I think part of the problem is that the Blogger Conference is linked with BEA. I don’t blame Reed for wanting to control who has access to BEA; the perks are pretty great but it is an industry event and meant for promoting new books to industry professionals, not a blogger feeding frenzy. I understand why Reed and the publishers want some control over who can attend the event. But I feel that this has come at the cost of the Blogger Conference.

    The Blogger Conference is supposed to be for bloggers. There is one panel on critical reviews, the rest seem to be about marketing blogs in some fashion. I was hoping for panels that dealt with writing, or issues like ethics, plagiarism, and etiquette, for example; maybe even something on blog design. And I don’t feel that these are unreasonable expectations considering what has been offered in previous years. I mean, what is the point of the Blogger Conference? Who is it for? I thought it was for bloggers. So why do I feel like I have signed up for a course at The Learning Annex?

    For me, it is not that Reed has asked for proprietary info, it is that I do not feel comfortable sharing that info with a company that so far has mishandled so much of the the entire process in regards to the Blogger Conference.

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  14. First, every single thing Wendy said.

    Second, once a professional book pusher organization has acquired a reader/book blogger con, it follows that said con is no longer for readers/book bloggers. Any surprise or outrage over it seems…well, a bit misplaced, to me.

    Then again, I have no idea what Reed thought it was buying–the BBC, as it was conceived, was not a professional organization’s event. On the contrary, it resembled nothing as much as a congress of cats–not two book bloggers see what they do in exactly the same way.

    So on the one hand you have a corporation that wants to make money out of its investment. On the other you have a bunch of people whose only commonality (for most of them) is that they love reading and talking about what they read. That doesn’t seem like a formula for success to me.

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  15. Pingback: Around the Bookish World: News-In-Review | Book Lovers Inc.

  16. I agree with some of the concerns about the setup of BBC, and I sincerely hope the BEA powers that be adjust accordingly (like they did by taking down the box for blog stats). I think if they listened to blogger concerns, and made the panels more valuable and interesting to bloggers, that would make the conference something I’d want to attend.

    But honestly, I’m just a bit fatigued by all this righteous anger. Certain bloggers are always SO quick to take to twitter and their blogs to make a big scandalous bubble out of virtually ANYTHING that comes their way. Everybody loves a good bloodbath, and they’re all out for blood (or page hits). It seems like a HUGE to do about nothing.

    Like many of these scandalous bubbles, there’s WAY too much chatter, and NONE OF IT is about books. Lame. And how do these people have so much time on their hands?

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s way easier to write an outraged blog post with lots of twitter screen grabs and links than to actually read and review a book thoughtfully.

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  17. Thanks for this detailed run-down. I missed most of this, so it’s good to get a sense of the different perspectives.

    I’ve held off making any plans to go to BEA/Blogger con this year, partly because I feared the program would be too focused on making industry connections, but also because I felt last year’s conference didn’t allow for enough interaction between bloggers. So the unconference appeals to me more, simply because it would allow for more talking to each other, rather than listening to others talk. But I’d hate to see a con vs. uncon dynamic develop.

    Given the most recent post at Reading Ape, I think the people at BEA believe they are listening, and maybe they are listening to a segment of the blogging community, but I think they’re just unaware of the kinds of things bloggers get worked up about, like asking for stats without any indication of what they’re for. I’m not bothered that publishers want that kind of information, but it doesn’t seem relevant to a conference for bloggers.

    But I’ve gotta say, I agree with Katy that people are sometimes really quick to get outraged over these kinds of things and assume nefarious intentions when there aren’t any. But at this point, even if the BEA’s intentions aren’t nefarious (and I don’t think they are), they’ve shown themselves to be out of touch enough that I doubt the kind of conference they’re putting together would suit me much. I did like the idea of Weiner as keynote, mostly because I’ve appreciated her efforts to raise awareness of poor coverage of women writers.

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  18. Thanks for all the feedback. I’ve only been to one book conference, and never to BEA or Book Blogger Con, so a lot of these remarks are filling in needed context for me.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was moved to post after several issues cropped up. I haven’t been happy with the way any of this was handled. When I compare it to the other reader con I attended, I don’t feel like a valued customer, or that community is being created at all. So the stats thing, for me, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I obviously don’t mind sharing my stats, when I have a widget with visitor numbers on the top right of my home page, but the fact that I was not going to be able to even have my blog listed in a directory, the purpose of which was ostensibly to allow better contact and communication between blogger attendees at a blogger con, unless I filled in the required stats fields, finally moved me to post.

    For me, a lot of this is just about poor customer service, and a secondary issue is the the question of whether the conference will be too industry oriented. Of course, I realize that attending an event attached to BEA is going to have a big connection to the book industry, to publishers and marketing. If I wanted to avoid that, I can go to the book club at my local library or one of the Books on the Nightstand events, sit with a bunch of fellow middle aged people sipping wine in an inn somewhere and meet with a couple of authors. Part of the excitement of Blogger Con is in its connection to BEA, which offers so many great opportunities.

    But I’ve paid my money, made my plans, and will almost certainly go to at least part of the blogger con. They responded to the stats concern right away, responded to specific concerns over at Reading Ape, and have added some information about the sessions that was not there two days ago. So I’m glad I posted and I think all of these posts and tweets are having a beneficial effect of opening channels of communication.

    I hope things continue to get better and all of my concerns will have been for naught. I will be really happy if I get to come back and say I had the time of my life.

    @Katy L.:

    It’s way easier to write an outraged blog post with lots of twitter screen grabs and links than to actually read and review a book thoughtfully.

    Uh…

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  22. First of all, it was great meeting you at the Random House event! Our three-name blogs will forever tie us together. ;)

    I have to say that attending this blogger’s conference for the first time, I was very disappointed. There were no practical take-aways and it seemed like we were being “sold to” the whole time.

    Thanks for the history of the conference, I had no idea it had been about by Reed. It gives me a lot to think about for next year.

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