June 3 (Bloomberg) -- ``The days of the subprime planet are over,'' Thomas L. Friedman said in his keynote speech at BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual trade show and convention in Los Angeles. ``We can't charge on our children's credit card much longer.''
Grumps and doomsayers populate any book convention, but everyone seemed moodier and more subdued than usual last weekend.
While the numbers are not in yet, the event clearly failed to match last year's New York showing of 29,000 people. No one book really animated the crowds, though the columnist's ``Hot, Flat and Crowded'' will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on Sept. 8 in a million-copy first printing. That's a lot of trees.
Friedman said he hoped to make ``Geo-Greenism'' a national talking point. Here's hoping it might deflect a few nano-seconds of attention from the infernal election campaign which has hogged the presses these last months along with the war and robbed most people of their senses. Publishers are generally reluctant to release headline-making titles into the media vacuum.
Still, the expo is a must for most industry heavies. Markus Dohle, Random House's new 39-year-old chief executive officer, arrived incognito and then stood in his own booth enthusiastically shaking hands. He was later spotted visiting the booths of his biggest rivals.
Too Many Books
The show is, above all, a showcase for forthcoming books. Last year, some 277,000 new titles and editions were published in the U.S., according to preliminary research released by Bowker last week. Many of them were first introduced at BEA.
``It was a conscious decision to publish after the election, when we thought we could get media for him,'' said Heather Fain, marketing director of Little, Brown.
With President Bush coming to the end of his term, authors who want to take their shots at him need to do so now.
Among those are attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who explains in his just-published ``The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder'' (Vanguard) why he believes the president should be held legally accountable for the deaths of almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. If the long line that formed at his signing is any indication, he's not the only one.
Children are perhaps the only demographic naturally indifferent to politics and, accordingly, are going to have the full attention of booksellers this year.
Fans of Stephenie Meyer are waiting for ``Breaking Dawn,'' the fourth and final installment of the ``Twilight'' teen vampire series. With a first printing of 3.2 million copies, ``Breaking Dawn'' is expected to be one of the top-selling books of the year. It is being released by Little, Brown on Aug. 2.
Perhaps the only title with a chance to unseat Meyer from the top of the bestseller list is Christopher Paolini's dragon fantasy, ``Brisingr'' (Knopf Books for Young Readers). The 2.5 million copies of ``Brisingr'' will land on shelves Sept. 20.
Perhaps some adults, fatigued by politics and economic news, will retreat to books as a refuge.
``Typically, when the economy goes south, people turn to fiction as an escape,'' said David Poindexter, publisher of San Francisco's MacAdam/Cage.
Wait and See
His company is hoping Scottish writer Iain Banks' 1992 novel ``The Crow Road'' will catch on with readers when they publish the book in the U.S. on July 28.
David Young, chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group USA, said the overall state of the economy and not politics or even an individual title will likely prove the biggest arbiter of the health of the book business through the end of this year.
``Consumers are already feeling the pinch,'' said Young, who cited slow sales of the backlist -- the evergreen titles booksellers order year in and year out -- as a reliable indicator.
``I've lived through many recessions, and books tend to be recession-proof,'' he said. ``I'm not wildly optimistic this time, but I don't expect things to nosedive. There are some great books coming. We'll just have to wait and see.''