Publishing convention not quite green

May 26, 2008 8:15:18 AM PDT
BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual showcase and trend-spotter, is admittedly a little behind in the race to go green.

This weekend's convention in Los Angeles will include much discussion about the environment. Three panels will review recent trends and initiatives and a featured speaker, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, will promote his new book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - and How It Can Renew America."

Virtually every major publisher, from Random House Inc. to Scholastic Inc., has announced environmental goals, mostly through the increased use of recycled paper and fiber from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international environmental organization.

But the revolution has not quite arrived at BookExpo.

Around 30,000 event guides, just over 40 pages long, will be distributed at the Los Angeles Convention Center, along with 19,000 copies of the 700-page program guide. More than 10 million pages in all will be printed, none on recycled paper.

"I'm very proud of the green programming that we created this year at the show," BookExpo vice president and show manager Lance Fensterman told The Associated Press. "Earlier in the year we had thought about doing even more green programming at BEA. But we felt that until we started being more green ourselves, it was not entirely right to proclaim the virtues of being green.

"We are fully aware that improvement can be made in our green-related efforts," he acknowledged.

Fensterman said that BookExpo, produced by Reed Exhibitions, welcomes any "constructive suggestions." He will likely hear from Tyson Miller, founder and director of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit program that has worked extensively with publishers on environmental issues. Miller sees "an opportunity for the convention to do more about practicing what it preaches."

"The small things add up and environmental leadership and action is something that perpetuates itself," says Miller, who will moderate an environmental panel at BEA.

Around 30,000 publishers, authors, agents, booksellers and librarians are expected in Los Angeles, at a time when the industry faces flat sales and possibly radical change. Random House, coming off a disappointing 2007, is switching CEOs. The Borders Group superstore chain may go up for sale, possibly to rival Barnes & Noble Inc., which itself has had a difficult year.

"I would anticipate a somewhat more subdued mood than in past years, playing out against a continuous thrum of chatter about shake-ups and shakeouts and impending changes bad and good," says Steve Ross, publisher of the Collins division of HarperCollins. "I also expect the usual jockeying for possession of `The Next Big Book,' since there are no clear candidates."

Publishing has become increasingly dependent on megasellers such as J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown, but no book this weekend approaches the anticipation of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," released in July 2007. Political superstars have appeared at BookExpo in the last two major election years - Bill Clinton in 2004, Sen. Barack Obama in 2006 - but none are scheduled for 2008.

"Several politicians were submitted by publishers as speakers for the show," Fensterman said. "The selection committee, and I fully support the sentiment, felt that we needed to be cautious about giving politicians a platform during any election year. Particularly if the individual is running for election."

Actor/political activist Alec Baldwin, promoting a book on parenthood after his well-aired telephone tirade against his daughter, will host a breakfast panel. Other speakers this weekend include filmmaker Michael Moore, media mogul Ted Turner, former basketball great Magic Johnson, and novelists Michael Connelly and Sherman Alexie.

The most newsworthy talk will probably come from a businessman. Amazon.com head Jeff Bezos is expected to discuss the state of digital publishing and retailing, including Amazon's Kindle, an e-book device that has had better luck inspiring debate about changing the market than actually changing the market.

More than a dozen educational sessions will highlight digital technology, from online social networking to downloading text on an iPhone. Other panels will cover graphic novels, the library market and censorship, with children's writer Judy Blume and crime author Dennis Lehane among those appearing at "Something to Hide: Writers Against the Surveillance State," co-sponsored by the PEN American Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

China, one of the world's fastest-growing markets, will be the subject of a five-hour seminar. About 750 officials from China and other Asian countries are expected, the highest ever at BookExpo.

Iraq, which has been not been represented in years, just missed making it in 2008. A British-bases sale and marketing consultant, Bill Kennedy, had arranged for an Iraqi book exporter, Mukdad Nouri, to attend. But the trip was called off because of delays in attaining a visa.

"All of the American publishers which my company represents helped support Mukdad's visa application with letters of invitation and offers of hospitality," said Kennedy, who specializes in the Middle East.

"This has been an extremely frustrating past couple of months. ... We had constructed quite a meaningful agenda for Mukdad at BEA."

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