BookCon: Should Attendees Purchase Books or Get Free Books?

BookCon 2019 Discussion

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.


28 thoughts on “BookCon: Should Attendees Purchase Books or Get Free Books?

  1. Stephanie says:

    I’ve never been to Book Con, but it sounds to me like they’ve changed some parts of how it works (i.e. offering less free stuff) but haven’t updated what they’re offering. I totally agree that if they are going to continue to have an entry free, they should really be offering a more unique experience.

    If there aren’t enough panels for people to go to and they’re expecting you to buy books there (the same you can get at B&N, etc.), then there really doesn’t seem to be a point behind bothering to go. It sounds so crowded that it’s not worth it for the panels (not $100 at least) and it sounds like they’re just selling the same stuff you could probably get discounted at a local retailer. For example, we can look at DragonCon, which does expect attendees to buy a lot of the stuff there; however, from what I understand, they’re offering things that you can’t or are difficult to get elsewhere.

    Personally, I don’t need to spend $100 on an entry fee to a place that is so crowded that it makes getting into panels difficult and then expects me to buy more books on top of it at full price. I mean, at least discount them or offer something unique. I’m all for supporting authors. But I could take that $100 entry fee and support authors with that instead of buying a ticket.


    • Krysta says:

      I was thinking the same thing! Briana was told she ought to have bought more books to “support authors,” but wouldn’t it actually make more sense not to attend BookCon at all and use the travel and entry fees to buy more books, if that’s the argument? But BookCon isn’t supposed to be just another book sale because you can buy books at full price anywhere. You don’t need to travel or pay an entry fee for that. And now I see people on Twitter saying Book Con should switch to selling overstock books at discounted prices. That’s called Book Outlet or a used bookstore. Actually, if the books are old, I can just borrow them free from the library! BookCon becoming a discount store would not fulfill any sort of need and people would not see the point of paying to enter. So what BookCon really needs to do is figure out what makes it special and why people are willing to pay to enter. Selling exclusive items seems like it could a good way for publishers to make money while making fans feel like they paid for something they can’t easily get anywhere else.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. alilovesbooks says:

    I’ve never been to bookcon but I do think you should expect some kind of experience for the entry fee other than lines you can’t join and panels you can’t get into without another ticket. I always thought the point was to meet authors and get exclusive merc.

    I suppose it’s not unreasonable to expect to buy some books (if you went to a music fest you might buy souvenirs) but really it should be stuff you can’t get elsewhere. ARC drops are obv great but why not make pre publication copies available to buy, give out samplers, have exclusive copies, signed copies, include some other goodies with a purchase such as a free exclusive bookmark, a tote, a t-shirt or something.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Exactly! I’d expect to buy something there, but I wouldn’t expect to go in and *just* buy stuff, especially stuff I can buy from Barnes and Noble anyway. I do think the panels are great, and they did have a lot of them, but some also did get full and stopped allowing people in. So it can be frustrating to *try* to get into the free stuff that you went for and be unable to.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Shannon @ MediaShadowReads says:

    There’s definitely got to be some give and take… we don’t have BookCon here in the UK (we do YALC which I haven’t been too either…) but I do think there needs to be something that makes it special and unique.

    Whether that should be ARC’s is another thing… ARC’s are awesome no doubt but I don’t think the focus should be just on them. It should be the experience and the magic of the place… although something in terms of ‘collectibles’ should be offered which is solely unique to bookcon for sure.

    Where are the people dressing up as book characters? Where are the experiences where you can follow in the foot steps of a character eg. escape rooms, puzzles etc etc. Where are the mini competitions to submit pieces of writing or artwork! There’s soooooo much they could do but those opportunities are just wasted!

    Also another thing… I do think there needs to be some kind of pre booking system for panels and author meet ups/signings/photos etc. And I do think there should be a limit for each person on a standard ticket as too how many they can do/attend. It would hopefully then even out the fact that some people didn’t get to attend anything because of queue caps. Yes it would make it hard for some people to choose but it would be fairer…

    Clearly something needs to give… to spend that kinda money on a ticket and not feel it was worth it isn’t something that should happen for sure!


  4. lesserknowngems says:

    This discussion touches on why I don’t go to BookCons. Why is the discussion about Book Con to buy things vs. get free things? Why has a convention about books been reduced to the material aspect of it? I like the ideas of conventions, any convention, as a way of accepting the social side of human beings in societies that focus more and more on the individual. I would love to go to conventions to be with other people, to talk and discuss and fan girl over stuff I’m passionate about with other people who are passionate about the same things. While I like the idea, what I feel I get in reality is that cons (and this isn’t just about Book Cons) has become more about the individual and stuff, rather than the community and your part as that community. I get that people want value for their money, so do I, but I’m sad that free vs. not-free stuff is how we measure that.


    • Krysta says:

      You would think cons would be a great place to meet fellow fans, wouldn’t you? But certainly not if you’re competing with each other in the Hunger Games of giveaways! It seems like BookCon needs to rethink their purpose. How can they connect fans and give them a unique experience beyond “pay to enter and then buy full-price books.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • lesserknowngems says:

        I agree that Cons should discuss at leat how they are organised, considering how they are organised seem to hinder booklovers to be able to discuss books and love for books. But, do you also think that there is something we as booklovers could do differently to make that possible side of BookCon happen?


  5. Samantha Duffy says:

    I completely agree with you. I think that the coordinators for the convention really should re-evaluate the event as a whole, and figure out how to make it more desirable for attendees. Have more panels, exclusive lounges or experiences. It should be unique, and offering things that the average bookseller does not. Maybe discussion groups, interviews, even if you did title/cover announcements from the convention! Things people can simply DO so that the focus is not solely on spending and material things. Yes, have author signings, and maybe even (like you stated) exclusive covers available only at Book Con. But I think if they worked harder to plan events and things to do rather than just having an extension of the publisher’s warehouse, they may go over a lot better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I agree! It would be nice to have events or experiences you can meet other people. It seems like BookCon would be an ideal place to talk with fellow book lovers, but an atmosphere where people are fighting each other to get free stuff doesn’t really encourage discussion!

      Incidentally, I was speaking to someone who went to BookExpo and she told me a small publisher told her they were required to stay for BookCon. So I wonder how many publishers were there merely because they had to be and not because they genuinely wanted to be. Maybe that’s why they were just selling stuff and not offering experiences or giveaways or promotions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Samantha Duffy says:

        That could also be a huge factor! In general the whole thing could just be done better, and I really don’t think I’d ever consider going to it again until they revamp it, but that’s just me


        • Krysta says:

          Yeah, it seems difficult to know right now if the ticket is worth it. Maybe there’s an author or a panel you’d really, really love to see. But if you don’t get tickets or a spot in line, you won’t see them. I might as well search for local author signings. Even if I had to travel, it would probably be worth it more than a BookCon ticket, because at least I’d know I would see the author! And there would be no entry fee to see them.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. J. M. Tuckerman says:

    So I do expect an ARC if I’m being asked for a review. I feel like that’s a fair exchange since I’m not getting paid to write said review.
    But I agree about definitely wanting to get something, anything, out of my money aside from attendance to a book fair. My first year at BookCon, there were giveaways for books, tote bags, con exclusives, prints of covers, meet and greets, and I went home with A TON OF SWAG. But the swag I went home with became a bit like a trophy, it said I was there, you know? But the next year was terrible. There were almost no ARCs to be found without having to literally fight people who would cut in line. Publishers and security alike did nothing about it. Everyone felt unprepared. Books sold out quickly for autographs, getting wristbands was near impossible, people kept cutting lines. The panels were boring, it felt like the authors didn’t want to be there. Handing out business cards to publishers (which I had done the year prior with no issue) got me a lot of dirty looks. As a blogger, those conventions are big networking opportunities for me so that I can continue getting blog tours, interviews, and ARCs and I felt looked down on for trying to reach out.
    Then it went to Chicago. I traveled from Philadelphia to Chicago. That’s a long trip for something that felt incredibly underwhelming. Almost all the genre and YA panels were at the same time. The show floor was small. The autograph area was tight. Rather than books-I remember a lot of bookish things. Out of Print had a stall and there were many other booths like them. Big publishers, like Harper, Simon, and PRH, were there with large spaces, but almost nothing in them. A few had books for presale for hardbacks that hadn’t reached pub day yet, which was cool–but not after I’d spent money on travel and my admission to BookCon.
    There has to be more. More exclusives, more intimacy people fans and authors, more panels with more diversity, and yes–more free books. Going up to BookCon is not a cheap weekend. It’d be nice to feel appreciated as both a blogger and a book nerd.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Oh, I definitely think that if an author or publishing is asking *you* for a review, they need to give you the book!

      It’s really interesting to hear from people who have gone to BookCon multiple times, since this year was the only time I went. I did like seeing the “bookish stuff” vendors because that is something a bit more unique I could purchase (even though I could also just order that online), but I do want more than just “the opportunity to buy stuff.” As you said, that’s more like a book fair than a convention.

      I also would have loved more meet ups. There was a bookstagrammer/booktuber one that I didn’t go to because I *do* have a bookstagram, but I’m primarily a blogger.


  7. CHARIS RAE @ says:

    I actually never thought about this before, but it makes a lot of sense! I definitely agree — there’s nothing “special” about BookCon in terms of obtaining books other than the occasional freebie or ARC. It’s like you’re buying a ticket so you can go buy more things. XD Like you said, it’s a give and take. I think we could definitely use some more balance in terms of what publishers are giving vs what we’re spending, and how to make it seem like a more unique, fun experience.


  8. bookishluna says:

    I ent to BookCon this year, I only bought 3 books at book con, all for signings. I took the subway to the strand and bought 5 there since they were cheaper. Publishers aren’t really doing anything to make me want to buy books at the convention. Last year they were more discounted, this year not so much.

    I am fine buying books there, but make it worth the “extra” money. If buying a subway ticket plus book prices is cheaper then at the event and it is the same book it isn’t really worth it to buy at the convention. As someone who works hard for my money, I am going to do the cheaper version. If there were special editions and such like you mentioned I would prob be more willing to buy there.

    I will say, it is starting to be more and more money to go and enjoy yourself and there are less and less vendors. Many are just coming for BEA and not coming/staying for BookCon.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I bought four books for signings, as well. And, honestly, if publishers wanted me to buy books from their booths, they should make the signings not require books. If I spend my whole budget for the wicked on books I “have” to buy, of course i’m not going to spend more on random purchases!

      That was my thought, as well. I’m fine with buying books, but I can get them from a bookstore and support the store or wait till I get a coupon or whatever and buy it cheaper. I have no reason to buy 10 full price books and lug them around BookCon.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. DoingDewey says:

    I think other people have already said this to some extent, but my impression is that there were fewer ARCs than previously. So, while I certainly don’t think bloggers are owed free books generally, I do think it’s fair to pay for an event expecting it to be as good as previous years and to feel like you didn’t get what you paid for if the offerings are less while the price remains the same. You also make a good point about simply needing something to do during the event! At the point that I’ve paid to attend an event, I’d be very grumpy if I ended up bored.


  10. devouringbooks2017 says:

    From everything I’ve read about Book Con/Book Expo this year it sounds super controversial. Publisher’s Weekly called it “game of the galleys”. I am pretty jealous of everyone who went, but at the same time I’m not entirely sure if it’s worth it to me. I think I would prefer to go to a smaller book festival that offers the same kind of stuff because the madness of Book Con and Book Expo sounds like to much.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      The PW article was the only kind of negative take I’ve seen so far! It’s near to hear not *everyone* besides me at the best time ever! (That sounds weird, though, like I’m wishing a bad time on someone. I just thought I was kind of alone in my disappointment.) I think a smaller festival sounds more fun at this point, too, even if it might not have the biggest name authors. I mean, I didn’t get to see those people anyway because of how crowded it was.

      Liked by 1 person

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