Not here to regurgitate the horrific scenes unfolding in New York, on course to surpass Italy as the epicenter of a global pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill. Whatever the numbers I report today will pale beside the numbers tomorrow, or next week.
Even if, by some miracle, the coronavirus in the wider US is contained by July, New York will be struggling to repair itself for many months to come, and will be the last place the publishing industry and the public will be flocking to – always assuming the governor is even ready to let people in by that time.
Right now the Jacob Javits Convention Centre, the intended home of Book Expo America, first to be held in May, then postponed to July, is being used as a hospital for the sick and dying, which lends a particularly hollow ring to the words of BEA organiser Jenny Martin, who said,
I want to assure everyone that we are working closely with the Javits Center to ensure the health and safety of our customers. It is noble what they are doing, opening their doors to overflow patients so that those who are infected with COVID-19 will have focused care in the city’s hospitals. We are all doing the best we can during these times, and what that means for BookExpo is to work hard to provide the place that gives our customers the tools to bounce back from this.
Noble indeed, Javits Centre.
Not so noble, Reed Exhibitions and Jenny Martin, who appear to be intent on maintaining the pretence that the show will go on when everyone knows that publishers, exhibitors, agents and consumers will vote with their feet and stay away in their droves even if, against all the odds, such an event is allowed to be held as soon as July.
The noble thing to do would be to cancel the real-time event for this year so everyone knows where they stand, and put their efforts into organising an on-line event where at least some of the intended action can still play out.
There’s still time for Book Expo America to redeem some shred of credibility in its statements about caring for the health and safety of its guests, and do the right thing.
But it looks like BEA will maintain its collision course with reality until it’s too late, even as the customers it supposedly cares so much about vote with their feet and exit the game.
The exodus was led by Penguin Random House with Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins both quickly following suit. Many more will follow in the next few weeks.