Is the Traditional Trade Show Dead?

A couple of years ago, I spoke with a small publisher who was convinced that the ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) would not be alive by the year 2010. This gentleman thought that physical trade shows would no longer be necessary due to the digital changes happening in the industry and the world.

Well, here we are in 2010 and ICRS is being held in St. Louis next month. Not only is ICRS still going strong, CBA anticipates that it will continue to hold ICRS each year for the next few years – they have the show scheduled through 2015 on their website.

Yes, both ICRS and BEA (Book Expo America) have experienced declining attendance in the past few years. Both shows have made changes to accommodate their shrinking audience. BEA reduced their show from three days to two days of open exhibit hall and has kept it in New York while ICRS reduced their show from four days to three days of open exhibit hall last year.

Shrinking attendance does not necessarily mean that a trade show is dying. I believe the shrinking attendance at both BEA and ICRS reflects larger trends in the book business. These trends include:

  1. There are fewer independent book stores and more chains book stores today than there were a decade ago. Chains stores generally have only a few buyers for a large number of stores, reducing the number of people that need to attend a trade show.
  2. The number of book stores overall is shrinking as more book sales are being made by big box stores and the Internet. Having fewer book stores means fewer retailers to attend a trade show.

On the other hand, I believe trade shows still hold an important place in the book buying business. Here are three reasons.

  1. Humans are physical creatures who crave physical contact. While the younger generations use digital means of communication (texting, instant messaging, social networking) to meet a portion of their social needs, people still crave and need in-person interactions. This is one reason why Meetup, a website where people can find local, in-person groups or events to join, is so popular.
  2. Face to face sales are still the most effective form of marketing. Kirby vacuum knows this. That’s why they use door-to-door sales people to sell their vacuums. A buyer’s ability to physically touch and see a book, as well as speak to a sales representative, still holds more power in persuading a purchaser to buy than an advertisement in a print or digital publication.
  3. Both BEA and ICRS are gearing up for a larger international attendance this year. The ash from the Icelandic volcano made the London Book Fair inaccessible for many book buyers who still desire to see and touch books as well as speak to publishers in person before making purchasing and foreign rights decisions.

Since the trade show is not yet dead, I will be at ICRS next month. If you plan on attending ICRS next month, make sure to stop by Christian Small Publishers Association’s booth (#1412) and say hello to me.


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