Was BEA 2010 a Win for Publishing?

Guy LeCharles GonzalezBy Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist, Digital Book World

“I think we fit well into this new world. And I’m not so anxious. I’m curious to see, actually, where it lands. But, as an independent bookseller, we’re certainly staying in the conversation. And if 10% or 8% of the books are e-books, that’s fine. There are still a lot of other books to sell, and we will–we will be selling both e-books through our websites and in our stores, and also we will be selling lots and lots of what I’m calling physical books, because that’s really where the market still is the strongest.”

Cathy Langer, lead buyer, Tattered Cover Book Store

I’m still processing everything about this year’s Book Expo America – the conversations, the debates, the new ideas, initiatives and partnerships – but arguably the most important takeaway for me was a simple one: people in publishing seem to be getting excited about publishing again.

Last year’s BEA felt like a dark cloud was hanging over the entire industry (not to mention over BEA itself), and there was an awkward combination of panic and resignation underlying every conversation about “the future of publishing”. This year, while there were several moments that left me shaking my head in disappointment, there were far more that made me feel like the industry had finally turned a corner and was taking a more proactive role in shaping its own destiny.

While much attention has been given to unfortunate comments made by the likes of Jonathan Galassi and Garrison Keillor, I’d argue that they represent a rapidly shrinking minority, so entrenched in their personal viewpoints that they’re unable to see the big picture. Meanwhile, the majority, far too many of whom are silent or marginalized in public forums, have started to fully embrace the dramatic changes as an exciting time for innovation and reinvention.

Along with Langer’s very pragmatic quote above, three others really summarize my feelings about this past week:

  • “The age of abundance makes copyright irrelevant.” – Richard Nash, Founder, Cursor
  • “Publishers have done a TERRIBLE job of articulating the work they do and the value they bring to the author/book.” – Dominique Raccah, Co-Founder & Publisher, Sourcebooks
  • “It helps the living make a living, and as a byproduct, will help the industry sustain itself.” – Ed Nawotka, Editor, Publishing Perspectives

One year ago, Nash was perceived by many as a radical maverick; today, his ideas about Publishing 3.0 feel more evolutionary than revolutionary, more pragmatic than provocative. His call for drastically revamping the way publishers deal with copyrights and contracts was even echoed by Brian DeFiore, who offered an inspiring manifesto during the “Do eBooks Hurt Authors?” session that I’m hoping he’ll publish somewhere. It has been an underlying theme of many of the conversations happening around eBooks for a while now, but it’s slowly moving to the forefront.

On the panel with DeFiore, Raccah made an excellent case for the value publishers offer authors in a world where DIY resources abound and “disintermediation” has become a fixture in Buzzword Bingo games. Publishing is about so much more than the distribution of physical books, and the sooner publishers themselves remember and embrace that fact, the sooner the tone of the conversation about the future of publishing will shift to more positive ground.

And finally, Nawotka’s 7x20x21 presentation called for “teaching literature backwards,” putting the emphasis on contemporary literature and authors, and tracing their lineages back to the classics, as opposed to the traditionally siloed focus on just the classics. It’s a deceptively simple concept that can and should unite everyone in the industry – from authors, agents and publishers, to bookstores, libraries and educators – with the end result being a more robust and engaged readership, today and tomorrow.

BEA wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but many of its problems were its own, mostly fixable, and not really reflective of the health of the industry it serves. (Important note, that last point.) If the conversation moving forward becomes more about the logistics and less about the necessity, that’s arguably a win for everyone involved.

As you’re preparing for the holiday weekend and the unofficial beginning of Summer, take a minute to reflect on your own takeaways from BEA this year and share them with us. If you were on the show floor, or attending various panels and presentations, and experienced things that countered some of the negative commentary that will inevitably get more press coverage, be sure those who weren’t there in person get the full picture.

What one thing made you especially excited this week?

Slide 5

“Publishers have done a TERRIBLE job of articulating the work they do and the value they bring to author/book.”

Dominique Raccah
Co-Founder & Publisher, Sourcebooks

7 thoughts on “Was BEA 2010 a Win for Publishing?

  1. Florrie Binford Kichler

    The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) represents more than 3000 small and midsize publishers in the US and beyond. Traffic through the IBPA booth was brisk and steady throughout the show, and the amount of interest in our members’ titles by book buyers and rights buyer was especially encouraging. I was equally pleased by the number of small publishers who stopped by to ask about the education, marketing and advocacy support our not-for-profit organization provides to the independent publishing community.

    For the first time this year, I felt that BEA wasn’t just a trade show for large publishers but for ALL publishers and the implication of that for the future health of our industry is profound.

    Florrie Binford Kichler, President, IBPA

    Reply
    1. Gail M. Kearns

      As a book sherpa for small and independent publishers, this is music to my ears. Along with my clients, I’ve been supporting PMA-IBPA for a good number of years, and for good reason.

      Gail M. Kearns
      President
      To Press & Beyond

      Reply
    2. amy amster

      Lee and Low Books is an independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity. They take pride in nurturing many minority authors and illustrators who are new to the world of children’s book publishing.

      For more about their history and their books, visit:
      Minority Book Publisher

      Reply
  2. Fran Toolan

    Guy,

    as you witnessed first hand, activity at the Firebrand booth was incredibly brisk through the entire show. My general takeaway from this is that the industry has, in fact, moved toward embracing the new realities.

    Publishers and distributors are searching for answers to the question of “How are we going to get done what we need to get done?”. They understand that there it takes a lot more effort to provide the same levels of value and service to their authors in a world of social networking and multiple eBook formats. They can no longer just add more “pairs of hands” to the problem of the scaled up work effort.

    In this movement of embracing the new realities, I’m incredibly optimistic that smart publishers and distributors will not only survive, but thrive, in the brave new world of publishing.

    Reply
  3. Greg Britton

    Certainly, to paraphrase Twain, reports of the death of the book have been greatly exaggerated.

    Reply
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