Similar to my industry colleague, the honorable Justin Levine, I, too, was a newcomer to the behemoth known as BookExpo America. I was told by various co-workers that it would be overwhelming and massive, but I thought to myself, “I can handle it.”
I was wrong. I walked onto the floor of the Javits Center on Wednesday and was immediately disoriented. I looked at the booth numbers hanging from the ceiling and walked to the wrong side of the floor. My mind wandered to the logistics of getting all of the promotional material (massive signs, posters, bookshelves, etc.) in and setting up. It was mind boggling.
I went to my booth for Book Country (shameless plug: www.bookcountry.com) and saw my co-workers. My boss generously told me to walk around and get oriented. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out where Penguin’s area was. I must have walked under the Ingram set four or five times before realizing that there was an entirely different part of the Javits through an enclosed walkway. What was this place? I finally made my way to the Penguin area (not before stopping off at Simon & Schuster to see Justin, who unfortunately was nowhere to be found) and marveled at the set-up. The lights, the book displays, the digital showcases. It was grand.
Through all of this, though, the one thing that stuck in my mind was the carpet. The entire floor of the Javits (multiple city block areas) was completely covered in carpet. But it wasn’t just one type. There was your typical blue, pita-thin rug that simply covered up the floor and was just as hard as the concrete underneath, but going from booth to booth a clear carpet caste system emerged.
There were those booths that did not have a choice of carpe and were stuck with the generic blue. A step above that was the booth that had a choice, but went with a different color than the blue to differentiate themselves from the proletariats, but in reality the carpet was the same. Yet another step above that was the slightly more plush carpet that those just under the traditional Big Six in stature (and budget) were willing to pay for. Finally there were the leviathans of the industry. You could tell who was doing well as soon as you stepped into their area. Your feet, which you have been walking around on all day, immediately breathe a sigh of relief as you leave the stained blue carpet and practically frolic onto the plush, off-whites of the major publishers and distributors. In the world of BEA carpet, Ingram was king. I would walk through their section even if it was out of my way just to experience that sweet, sweet relief.
Just as quickly as the carpet caste system was created, however, it was dismantled. Beginning sharply at 3 o’clock on Thursday, only a short while after my BEA arrival, the Javits crew began to tear it off the floor. From the beautiful Ingram rug to the pedestrian blue carpet, all was picked up and hauled off to reveal the hard, unforgiving concrete, ready for another trade show with its own decorative hierarchy.