Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue


Is New York’s Hold on Publishing Smothering It?

Oh, New York, New York!

No denying, New York is the publishing center of America … And, it might even have been a good concept at one time under older business models that were more horizontal and where grouping tangental businesses in close proximity was desirable for expediency.

But, todays publishing landscape is everywhere, instantly … So, why does New York still have such a hold over the publishing industry? 

Good question … Reluctance to change. Old habits are hard to break. Old power brokers don’t want to give up power (although it’s been steadily seeping away), etc., etc.

Anyway, here is a good insight on this subject by Edward Nawotka in

Is Publishing Too New York-centric?

New York’s outsized influence on publishing is felt across the US, but is it good for the other 99%?

The outsized influence New York, and Brooklyn in particular, has on the current literary scene is undeniable.  It is the center of publishing in the United States.

But is it good for the other 99% of the country?

New York publishers have been accused of publishing books for each other – and the writers, for writing for each other. Has a kind of group-think has set in where people — consciously or not — are perhaps working to impress each other rather than a wider audience?

You often hear publishing personalities and literary journalists on the coasts moan that “the rest of America” doesn’t read books. To this I say, the rest of America does read, they just don’t necessarily want to read the books New York sometimes publishes. How many novels can someone in, say, Chicago or Atlanta, read about a twenty-something Manhattan editorial assistant, junior Wall Street trader, or cupcake shop owner in Cobble Hill looking for love?

But isn’t some of this our own fault. After all, with the end of the year lists, how is it that book critics in Denver, Minneapolis, Kansas City and San Diego all manage to come up with basically the same “top ten” book lists? Shouldn’t they be looking at more worthy regional titles? Nah, cause if they don’t weigh in on the big important books of the year, they won’t be taken seriously by their more-influential colleagues in New York.

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Digital is Growing Up

A little visionary post tonight…As much as I can envision the future anyway (being retarded makes it difficult).

We talk about “traditional” print publishing today as old hat. Well, not too far into the future the new tablet computers, eReaders and other mobile devices will be “traditional” or old hat also. Just like the old bulky camcorders (remember them?) have given way to more diminutive devices.

After all, who will need ANYTHING you have to carry to compute on, or receive data on, when you will probably be able to think, or command in some other way, data molecules right out of the air into holograms for such tasks!

Ouch! All this prognosticating has left me drained! But, to get back to the present, just how is the state of digital publications doing after their first introduction about 10 years ago (damn has it been that long)?

Here is an article by Matt Kinsman of FOLIO magazine that examines the “Digital Editions: The State of the Industry”:

As the digital edition industry near 10 years of age, Nxtbook Media recently wrapped a survey called “Digital Editions: The State of the Industry,” which polled 233 publishers on their overall satisfaction with digital editions as audience tools and revenue generators, and how mobile apps and tablets will influence their strategy going forward.

Interestingly, Nxtbook concluded from the results that there is great latent potential in digital magazines from the perspective of the publisher. In terms of priorities, Nxtbook believes, publishers are more focused on increasing circulation for digital magazines and selling advertising more effectively into the format, than they are on apps and mobile solutions.

When it comes to the circulation of their digital magazines, about 40 percent reported modest to great satisfaction. On the other hand, 38 percent were somewhat dissatisfied while 22 percent were quite dissatisfied.

However, b-to-b publishers seem more pleased with digital magazines at this point than their consumer counterparts, with 50 percent saying they are somewhat to greatly pleased with their digital circulation.

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Technology’s Relevant Opportunities for the Written Word.

The SXSWi (South by Southwest Interactive, for the uninitiated) Conference kicked off Friday in Austin, Texas and many professionals in all the fields associated with new digital media and tecnology converged to discuss it’s affect on publishing, marketing and retailing of books, magazines and other forms of the written word…among other fascinating things.

This conference is actually an offshoot of the 20 year old more famous SXSW music and film conference.

Pete Miller will be blogging for Jacket Copy (a bookish blog for the Los Angeles Times) from the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas. Pete gives a little history and explanation of this unique conference:

Last year I was invited to join a discussion at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival about the future of book publishing. An offshoot of the more famous music conference, SXSWi has built a sizable reputation of its own. Designers, programmers, futurists, bloggers and marketers convene each March to compare notes on new innovations, fresh uses of old technologies and the state of the community. They are consumed, to put it lightly, with the social implications of our digital future.

Unlike the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, SXSWi isn’t, at its heart, a trade show. There is little or no corporate hoopla (yet). Attendees are here to foster debate and celebrate the do-it-yourself ethos. When it launches a product, it is usually of the grassroots, open-source wiki variety. Twitter broke out here — something the festival is especially proud of.

The publishing panel was organized by colleagues of mine at Penguin publishers, and their invitation a kind of nod to my dual identity in the business. A bit of a rare bird, I work weekdays overseeing the publicity department for Bloomsbury, a midsized Manhattan publisher, and weekends behind the counter of a used bookshop I own in my Brooklyn neighborhood. While others would discuss the marketing and editorial and authorial aspects of the publishing process adapting to the digital upheaval, I would speak on behalf of the promotion and retailing of books.

SXSWi is as innovative and influential as Penguin is venerable and global. That I was asked to join a panel of other publishing executives and media experts (including their author, Clay Shirky) was in itself a peculiar decision. There were far more qualified strategists within the profession working for Penguin and other large publishers. I don’t want to portray myself with false modesty as a boob in the woods, Pa Kettle touring a human genome lab. I have been in publishing for 20 years, long enough to straddle the two eras without being blindsided by change.

It turned out my role was not to explain what Bloomsbury was doing to face a paperless future, but to explain the industry challenges of promoting authors into a more disarrayed digital marketplace. Books are still around and will be so in multiple formats for the foreseeable future. How do we make readers aware of them if authority (a.k.a. book criticism) is slipping in the print media and migrating with middling success online? Is bottom-up social networking (a.k.a. consumer reviews) the only solution?
On the other hand, as a bookseller (albeit a low-wattage one) I suppose my comments would be judged with some sort of gravitas. I mean, reading is all about the end user. But can the bricks-and-mortar indie coexist with e-retailing? Shaky ground, indeed.

It isn’t necessary to rehash the ensuing hijinks (I did that then), but let’s just say we made a spectacularly bad impression. Perhaps it was the ambitious program name, “New Think for Old Publishers.” Perhaps it was the lack of a PowerPoint presentation instead of our single slide saying “The Internet is the largest group of people who care about reading and writing ever assembled in history. Now what?” Maybe it was the mere presence of “industry” types on stage, extolling the virtues of the publishing process to an audience of cool self-actualizers.

But as each of us cluelessly rattled on behind the comfort of our analog microphones, a flurry of keystrokes below were pounding out a parallel dialogue, one that was playing out live via Twitter feed across the lit-blogosphere and making my colleagues Back East blanch in embarrassment.

Was this a fair first impression? The playing field in Austin wasn’t exactly level. We were labeled arrogant insiders, but new to the SXSWi scene we felt more like pimply teenagers on a prom date with a surly cheerleader.

Undeterred, publishers arrived back in New York bruised but better equipped for punishment. According to Kelly Leonard, executive director of online marketing for Hachette, it appears there are 20% to 30% more representatives from the industry converging on Austin. Last year she practically begged Hachette to let her attend. Now her retinue is five. Collectively, they are intent on demonstrating that publishers can adapt with the times, that we are not just music execs in tweed jackets.

This year, I am back in Austin to absorb the creative impulse celebrated at SXSWi and to enter the open dialogue about technology’s relevant opportunities for the written word.

Yet I can’t help but carry with me a seed of skepticism for that blind valedictory spirit. Jaron Lanier — the acknowledged father of virtual reality and no slouch in the innovation department — laments in his recent book “You Are Not a Gadget” that the open-source movement far too readily dismisses traditional media as dinosaurs. He calls it the “blaming the victim” syndrome; I call it the “I told you so” mentality.

For the next few days I will be looking for the kind of conversation that is about solutions and not about blame. My questions about the crowd and cloud publishing remain; hopefully this time I will find the answers…Peter Miller

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