I’ve noticed some discussion on Twitter around the idea of how many books attendees at BookCon should be expected to purchase vs. how many giveaways or ARC drops they should expect. After mentioning that I personally had bought four books over the two-day event, thus spending $80 on books (ignoring the cost of the ticket to enter the convention and the cost of transportation to get there, which cost me roughly $100 total), I was told I ought to be glad to buy books and “support authors and publishers,” as if spending about $200 on a single weekend was not a big enough investment.
The debate over whether publishers/exhibitors should expect attendees to buy books vs. whether attendees should expect to be given free books is interesting because it mirrors conversations that occur in the online book community all the time. Do publishers “owe” bloggers and other influencers ARCs? Is it entitlement to expect them? Do readers “owe” authors and publishers purchases? Or should they realize that readers frequently have other, more pressing expenses on which to spend their income? However, I think the question about buying things (or not) at BookCon differs slightly because, after purchasing a ticket to get in the door, I believe attendees expect some type of experience, something they “paid for” that isn’t just the opportunity to browse publishers’ offerings at booths and buy (mostly full price) books. After all, buying books is something one can do from the comfort of one’s own home, and going into a building with the primary purpose of purchasing books is just a bookstore, not a con.
So, while it’s possible that some people really are just entitled and want to leave events like BookCon with armloads of ARCs and free swag, I think it’s equally possible that attendees just want something to do. It’s not viable for most people to spend an eight hour day (or two eight hour days) only buying books; it’s not in their budget. So what else is BookCon offering for the price of admission?
To be clear, there were free things to do at BookCon this year (though many of them came with long lines that attendees might have been unable to get in). There were a variety of interesting panels. There was a booktuber and bookstagrammer meet and greet. There was a Babysitter’s Club-inspired lounge with things like a bedazzling station. There were fun backdrops to take the perfect photo for your bookstagram feed. But maybe participants wanted more. I know I personally spent a lot of Saturday walking vaguely around, not doing much of anything as every line I tried to get into was capped (and many of those lines required you to purchase a book anyway).
For me, the question is really What can I do at BookCon that I can’t do anywhere else? If the answer really is “buy things to support authors and publishers,” then I think it would be cool if there were more exclusive items, whether limited editions of popular books or swag I can only get there. There are OwlCrate or FairyLoot exclusive covers for popular YA books; why not a BookCon exclusive cover? I’d also ask authors and publishers to realize that I am willing to buy books (I think many readers are), but I’m not able to spend $300 on them in a single two-day spree.
No reader “has” to buy anything, and no publisher “has” to give away free stuff, and, yes, there are tons of events where the modus operandus is that you pay an entry free for the privilege of simply buying more stuff. (People gave other conventions as examples; for me, craft fairs came to mind.) However, I think looking for ways to help con attendees feel as if they got a unique experience, as if attending was “worth it” (particularly for people who fly in, rent hotels, and generally do spend lots of money just to get there) is still an admirable goal and one we can probably generally agree upon.