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An upbeat mood at Book Expo America

Revitalization and optimism are rampant at publishing's biggest conference.

May 28, 2011|Carolyn Kellogg

NEW YORK — What makes Jane Fonda say "wow"? A bigger-than-capacity crowd of more than 200 booksellers waiting to hear about her latest, "Prime Time: Creating a Great Third Act," a rousing manual for aging well.

Fonda's appearance Thursday closed Book Expo America, publishing's biggest industry conference. About 20,000 who write, edit, publish and produce books and lend and sell books gathered in the Javits Convention Center over three days this week to preview the next year in books.

In addition to Fonda's book, coming in August, there will be a memoir from Diane Keaton, "Then Again," in November and a new biography of conservative intellectual William F. Buckley by Carl T. Bogus from Bloomsbury. The hottest young adult title of the fair was Brian Selznick's "Wonderstruck"; half graphic novel, half text, it will come to shelves in September. Joan Didion has a new memoir on the way, and literary fiction fans are looking forward to new titles from Russell Banks, Nicholson Baker and Jeffrey Eugenides.

Revitalization and optimism were themes of the conference. On Tuesday's opening day, Barnes & Noble summoned media to its grand Union Square store to debut a new Nook e-reader, the Nook Touch. Although it has a black-on-gray e-ink screen common to many e-readers, it is a complete touchscreen, where readers can turn pages and select books, like on an iPad or other tablet.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, May 31, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Book Expo: In an article in the May 28 Calendar about Book Expo America, Dominique Raccah was quoted as saying that sales of books in bricks-and-mortar stores were up about 8% last year. If fact, she was speaking specifically of sales figures of her own company, Sourcebooks, in the first quarter of 2011.

The announcement signaled the advent of a looming e-reader device war. Just the day before, Kobo, which dominates the e-reading market in Canada and Australia and is making a strong play for American readers, unveiled its own e-ink touchscreen tablet. The e-readers are similar in size and design, and both Wi-Fi only; the Kobo Touch edition costs $129 and the Nook Touch is $139.

Meanwhile, Random House, the world's largest publisher and the last to make its books available through Apple's iBookstore, announced during Book Expo that its availability through Apple is now complete. That was Thursday, the same day Amazon announced a $164 3G Kindle; $25 less than the original, it comes with embedded advertising.

Interestingly, old-fashioned print books appear to be on equal footing with this dynamic e-reader field.

For the first time, Amazon's publishing arm, which debuted in 2009, had a booth on the floor of Book Expo where it passed out print copies of its books.

"We were very excited to have a booth at BEA for the first time this year," an Amazon Publishing representative told The Times. "All of the books we publish are available in print, digital and audio formats."

Dominique Raccah, chairwoman of the trade organization the Book Industry Study Group, told The Times that brick and mortar sales were up about 8% last year. "There is growth in the book industry overall, contrary to what people believe," she said.

At the Abrams booth, decorated with stylish white carpet and red curved benches, Lottchen Shivers, director of marketing and publicity, emphasized the importance of putting physical books in the hands of the conference attendees, like buyers from bookstores. "Because we do illustrated books, there is a quality that you can only get from holding our books," she said. "BEA is a working convention." A lead Abrams title is "The Oprah Winfrey Show: Reflections on an American Legacy," a photo-rich book with essays by Toni Morrison, Bono and more.

If e-books once seemed ready to displace hardcover books, now they are seen as a valuable and vital addition to a hundreds-year-old industry.

One publisher showing off an upcoming enhanced book was Penguin, which plans to make a new iPad app edition of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" available in June. It will include the compete text of the novel with new annotations, photographs, an interactive map of Kerouac's journeys and historical materials from the Viking archives, including a visual of the original "On the Road" scroll.

"It's an extraordinary time to be part of remaking what a book can be," said Raccah, who is the founder and publisher of Sourcebooks, an Illinois-based independent publisher.

At the end of the conference, Fonda echoed the optimism theme. "Guess what -- I'm not afraid of age anymore," Fonda, 73, said to applause. "I'm falling apart physically -- I have a fake hip, fake knee, I've had cancer. But in my heart and my mind and my soul and my spirit, I have never been happier."


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