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.


Mixed Reactions After Attending BookCon 2019

BookCon 2019 Recap

As some of you may know from following me on Twitter, I attended BookCon in NYC for the first time this year.  After years of watching other people go and apparently have a fabulous time meeting up with friends, getting to see authors, and nabbing exciting upcoming ARCs and book swag, I was extremely excited to go.  However, my experience was a mixed bag, something I think stands in stark contrast to glowing, positive tweets that are once again filling the #bookcon hashtag—but which is not actually different from the experiences of other people I talked to while at the convention.

I simply was not prepared for how crowded the convention would be—and how aggressive that would make attendees.  The day started with people making a mad rush into the building once the con opened, desperate to get to start-of-day ticket drops or grab a free tote bag from Epic Reads.  It was eye-opening to see adults push, shove, and elbow each other out of the way to get what they wanted and even bowl over small children or whack violently into strollers with their bags, all without apology.  I didn’t enjoy being pushed around all day (I’m surprised I didn’t see anyone get hurt), and, as someone who was unwilling to push other people out of my way, I got practically no books on Saturday—besides two that I bought.

It also took me a long time to realize that when the BookCon schedule says something starts at, say, 3:00, people begin lining up at 1:00.  These lines are “unofficial” and according to BookCon’s rules, they’re technically not allowed.  Yet, inevitably, these become the official line.  This meant that any line I tried to get into for an event—an author signing, an ARC drop, a game, a giveaway, etc.—was already full and had been full for two hours before the start of the event.  Waiting this long, even for a book I’m excited about, seems a little not worth it to me, but it seemed to work for other people who decided to cut lines, leave the line and “come back” to their spot an hour later, have friends or family members hold their spot while they did something more interesting, etc.  Again, I was under the impression this is not allowed under BookCon’s rules, but because this was my first time attending, I didn’t realize it’s de facto allowed because a lot of people do it, and no one tells them they can’t.

My experience was not entirely negative.  Sunday was better than Saturday, due to the fact there seemed to be fewer people attending.  I did get into a line or two, though it was like competing in The Hunger Games trying to claim my spot.  So I met more authors, got more books, and did more things.  I hung out in the beautiful Babysitters Club lounge.  I saw a panel with Melissa Albert, Stephanie Garber, and Margaret Rogerson that was moderated by V. E.  Schwab.  I was able to get a book signed by Melissa Albert and get a photograph (on Saturday, Susan Dennard “ran out of time” for photographs with fans who had been waiting hours). And I talked to other book fans in line.  A few of them independently told me they had a better time this year because they had come before and learned to “lower their expectations.”  They recommended mainly attending panels and resigning yourself to the fact you’re not really going to get the coveted ARCs, swag, or author signings.

So would I go again?  Maybe.  On Saturday, my answer was a definitive no.  After the slightly chiller experience of Sunday, I’m on the fence.  I might be interested in buying just a Sunday ticket.  I might decide it’s worth shelling out the money for a VIP ticket to be let onto the show floor first, have guaranteed seating at panels, and have first dibs at getting author autograph tickets—all things I had no chance of getting without the VIP experience.  There are things I enjoyed, so I don’t want to rule out re-attending entirely.  I am surprised I haven’t seen more lukewarm reactions to the con (again, everyone on Twitter seems to be gushing), but maybe these are all people who also “lowered their expectations” or who had VIP tickets or, I don’t know, pushed others out of the way so they could get what they wanted.

I’m still processing my reaction to attending, weighing how much I enjoyed it and whether I think it was worth the time investment and the cost,  and I’d love to hear the thoughts of others who went or who attended in the past.