Like any convention held at New York's Javits Center, BookExpo America 2015 was brimming with booths and displays competing for attention.
Penguin Random House's large, orange bookcase-trailer hybrid greeted visitors as they made their way into the showroom floor dominated by the big book publishers. Huge signs indicated the location of HarperCollins and Scholastic, who – with their elaborate setups – made you feel like you weren't in an event hall but rather in your wealthy friend's home library.
But BEA 2015 wasn't just about major players in the publishing game. Tucked away in the back of the Javits Center was the Author Marketplace, filled with 28 yellow tablecloth-clad stations where indie authors hoped to get exposure for their self-published books.
Though indie publishing has basically been around as long as traditional publishing, the ease and accessibility of online publishing platforms today has lowered the barriers to entry more than ever before. For instance, through Amazon and Barnes and Noble's digital publishing platforms, an author can get published in e-book format within days — just by uploading a manuscript.
E-book publishing has been helpful for authors looking to get their books to consumers without the backing of literary agents and major publishing houses. Brent LeVasseur first published his five-part children's sci-fi series Aoleon the Martian Girl in e-book format, with the paper version being released just a few weeks ago. LeVasseur said he has been selling between 100 and 300 units of the Kindle edition a day since his books hit Amazon at the end of January. The first book in the series currently holds the No. 2 spot on Amazon U.K.'s best seller list for children's alien e-books.
LeVasseur said he thinks his Aoleon the Martian Girl series works better in e-book format because it features 3-D illustrations throughout. However, in spite of his success with e-books, LeVasseur isn't ready to say goodbye to physical book publishing just yet.
"There always will be print books because people love print books," said LeVasseur at BEA on Friday. "So even though the e-book is sort of growing quickly, and it's taking a lot of market share, there will always be a market for print books. I think you need to do both, unless your book is very niche, which for some reason would only fit into an e-book format."
This sentiment was echoed by many indie authors at BEA this year. Though it might be a lengthier and more labor-intensive process, publishing on paper is still a priority.
In fact, Peter McNeil, the author of the post office drama Postal and its sequel, said 80 percent of his sales have been in physical copies of his books — though he said he sees his e-book sales gradually increasing. Still, McNeil said he has found it difficult to get the word out that his books are available in the e-book format.
"I come to find that although we're in this digital age, people still love a physical book. People still love that book feel. They want to get that autographed copy of a book in their hand," said McNeil at BEA on Friday. "As long as the physical books [are] around, I'm going to be continuing with the physical books."
Similarly, Ara Lucia Ashburne, author of the memoir Reconstruction: First a Body, Then a Life, said people still have a romanticism about physical books. She said her book has sold an equal amount of e-books and paper editions, which may be due to the book's fantastical cover illustrated by Alan Pollack, which might not be as alluring in e-book format.
"I thought the e-book would just be completely different, just be significantly higher, but I think partly due to the infatuation with the cover has made people really want a paper copy," Ashburne said.
Though large sections of the showroom floor were dedicated to companies and start-ups showcasing new technologies in digital publishing, one would of course expect a lot of love for physical books among most BEA exhibitors and attendees anyway.
The main activities of the three-day event included looking at all of the publishers' books on display, filling up tote bags with complimentary galleys and meeting authors as they autographed their latest books. As the largest publishing event in North America – with attendees including everyone from booksellers to librarians to authors – BEA is still very much a celebration of print books.
Perhaps these indie authors aren't wrong to not give up on physical books just yet. E-book sales dropped a little more than 2 percent in January 2015 compared to that month's sales the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers' most recent report on publishers' book sales. On the flip side, sales of hardcover and paperback books increased 15.5 percent and 18.5 percent year over year, respectively.
But just three years ago, e-book sales had surpassed hardcover book sales for the first time. Just Google "e-books vs. paper books," and you'll be met with countless news stories, poll results and think pieces published within the past five years, either telling book lovers that print isn't dead or decrying the rise and ultimate domination of e-books.
Well, e-books haven't eclipsed printed books just yet, and it's unclear when or if there will ever come a time when that will be the case — though it's no secret that printing anything is becoming a thing of the past these days.
For now, indie authors seem content with any opportunity to get their work and their name out there, whatever the format may be.