It wasn't always thus. BEA was once the exclusive domain of industry professionals. And two years ago — the last time I attended — it was a ghost town. Free books were few and far between. Many well-known publishers didn't bother with renting space on the convention floor, opting instead for cordoned-off meeting rooms in the basement of the Javits.

But this year, in addition to Writers Row and upublishU, Book Expo invited regular people. The initiative, known as "Power Readers," allowed fans to pay their way onto the convention floor for the first time in the convention's history

And the contrast was striking. Not only were the publishers back on the floor, but the signing lines were long and the aisles were teeming. A large, multicolored placard at the main entrance read, "Welcome, Power Readers." On the second day, when I popped in for a sponsored 7:30 breakfast with Kirstie Alley and Michael Chabon, there were already dozens of Power Readers — mostly women — sitting beneath the "Welcome" sign.

Both Power Readers and Writers Row are consumer-driven initiatives, and successful ones at that. Power Readers lets enthusiasts act like industry professionals with none of the work, and Writers Row allows self-published writers to feel like Lee Child, if only for a little while. Both give laypeople a chance to get in on the action — for a price.

The PW report called the reader campaign a mixed bag. Chronicle Books publicist Lara Staar's reaction was tepid at best. "Honestly, we were dreading Consumer Day — 'The readers are coming; oh no!' But none of our fears have been realized. They've been lovely and respectful. My concern is the vetting process. I'm not sure who these people are."

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