(I'm only "semi" retired)
My trip to the BEA is over. I generally do everything I need to do in one day, the first day of the floor exhibitions. The BEA is really too exhausting to me to go back. Observations this year:
(1) The digital printing booths were slightly more centralized and slightly less deserted, but they were still pretty deserted because they didn't have cool books to look at and most people don't need to talk to them. Also exactly what each company does is confusing, because their posters just have a bunch of buzz words on them, so you have to ask, "Do you publicity?" or whatever you want and they tell you yes or no. They are very polite, though.
(2) Google Books had a funny sign, like "Check us out!" or "Come and join us!" or something like that, as if we're all afraid of them rather than mad at them for massive copyright infringement. Then I could not actually find the Google Books booth.
(3) I still have no idea why self-published authors buy booths to promote their book. It's got to be a ridiculous amount of money (a badge to get in was something like $400 for authors - my publisher paid my way), like thousands of dollars, and it's not as if publishers are wandering around, looking at booths and saying, "I want that. That thing that no publisher picked up if the author even tried." Seriously, if you are a self-published author and you want to promote your book, save your money and buy a publicity package from Lulu or CreateSpace.
(4) As usual, the only Jewish presses had titles I had never heard of or only heard of via Amazon recommendations, and their books had no Hebrew in them. Serious Judaica (not general Jewish books that are published by imprints) is a specialized market sold to Jews by Jews in Judaica stores, syangogue gift shops, or online. Artscroll has no reason to be at the BEA. Either I'm going to buy the new English translation of the Talmud Yerushalmi or not; no serious promotion is needed there, or needs to be done within the general industry.
(5) That guy who likes burning Qur'ans? He has a publisher, and they had an abandoned booth with a manniquin wearing a burqa. The sign on her chest said, "Hello, my name is Zahra. I have to live in this cage in Afghanistan. Can you ban it in America?" Which, you know, has part of a good cause (international women's rights) mixed with a healthy dose of racism.
(6) Chinese presses are always a little creepy because they're government controlled unless they're outside the mainland, and their material basically says, "Everything is awesome in China. There are definitely no problems you've been reading about in other sources." The Beijing Review magazine was especially bad - nothing but positive articles about how amazingly cool everyone is doing, especially those victims of the Sichuan earthquake who are now totally over it and they love their new housing. Also, definitely nobody was arrested for trying to publish the names of child victims, especially not an important artist. I am not really exaggerating here, just using different language than the magazine used. It's a shame, because there are a lot of good books released by these presses in English, but you have to wade through disquieting stuff. I mean, there are definitely a lot of countries with major human rights problems, but very few of them are at the BEA, on a full-scale offensive of promoting how there are no human rights problems in their countries.
(7) I picked up 2 books. One was actually not a giveaway - it was one of the books on display, and I told them it was on my Amazon wishlist for a long time, and they gave me their extra copy, which was very nice. The other was at a press where I'm published and they were doing a signing and I felt compelled to support the author. But my apartment is getting pretty crowded and I really don't need piles of fiction I don't want to read and couldn't sell for serious money even if it's signed.
(8) There's always one Buddhist monk wandering around. This year he was Tibetan (and he was white). Last year, a Japanese nun I think? Or maybe Korean. I don't remember.
(9) Small presses really shine at the BEA. I only say this because from my perspective, the big presses are booths I don't really need to visit, because I know what they do and I know their titles, but the small presses who might actually have decent sales I would never otherwise see. And their representatives have time for you and are as under-dressed as you are.
(10) Did people see that company that reproduces medieval manuscripts using the same materials? That was amazing! I couldn't believe they actually let us flip through their books, which were really creative masterpieces even if they were copies. Must cost a fortune, though. I didn't even ask.
(11) My business card which was a rushed job on ugly paper last night while I was recovering from a sore throat was so bad that people loved it. Someone said, "I think I would end up paying an ad company $200 to come up with this."
(12) If you are going tomorrow, bring a sweater. The exhibition floor is freezing.