DBW Interview with Mike Shatzkin, Conference Chair, Part 2

Mike ShatzkinThe Digital Book World Conference + Expo is right around the corner, taking place March 7th-9th in New York. And to find out more about some of the programming that’s scheduled, as well as some insight into the state of the book publishing industry, we sat down with Mike Shatzkin, CEO of The Idea Logical Company and Conference Council Chair of DBW, to get his thoughts.

Shatzkin is a widely-acknowledged thought leader about digital change in the book publishing industry, having been actively involved in trade book publishing since his first job as a sales clerk in the brand new paperback department of Brentano’s Bookstore on Fifth Avenue in 1962. In his 50 years in the industry, Shatzkin has worked in all aspects of the book production process: writing, editing, agenting, packaging, selling, marketing and managing production.

This is part two in a three-part series.

How do you personally feel about the state of book publishing right now?

We’re at a fragile moment. Print books in stores are still important enough to keep publishers whose most important value-add is what they can do in that sphere when healthy and important. But if print-in-stores drops from where it is, and I think it is no more than 40 percent of the business for the trade-iest books, like novels, that could change. If a marketplace develops where the print-in-stores component is trivial, or optional, then things might change a lot more—very suddenly—than they have so far.

I think a presentation that a lot of people are already talking about is the one that will be given by Data Guy, the man behind the data and analysis of the Author Earnings report. What sort of things are you expecting to hear?

As important as it is that Data Guy is talking, it is equally important that Michael Cader is interviewing him. Nobody has a better grasp on overall industry data than Cader. In fact, he’ll be giving his own talk on that before the Data Guy interview. What I expect to learn from Data Guy and Cader’s conversation is how much share the indie authors are really taking from publishers, how much pricing has to do with the shift, and how much authors give up in exposure—and perhaps in earnings—if they try to do it themselves. Or maybe their earnings are better, or can be better. I think Data Guy and Cader will shed a lot of light on that.

Another talk that I’m really interested in is “Women at the Intersection of Publishing and Technology,” which will address the misogyny that is so entrenched in the tech world. It’s so fascinating because book publishing is an industry that historically is filled with women, yet this technological shift is clearly changing the demographics. What got your attention and compelled you to organize a talk that addressed this issue?

It was the fight that broke out over the South by Southwest panel last fall that brought the subject into bold relief for me. I canvassed a few women in publishing about it to see if it was a topic worth putting on the programming. When one woman CEO of a tech-oriented company told me she’d never even interviewed a female developer—none had ever surfaced in their recruitment—I knew I was on to something. I think this will be a lively and important discussion.

Let’s talk about authors. With all this conversation about “digital” and “transformation,” we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that books depend on authors actually writing them. How is DBW addressing the role of the author this year?

The session most directly affecting authors is one called “Finding Common Ground: How Publishers and Authors—Regardless of What Path They’re Taking—Are Working Together.” We were delighted to get Jane Friedman, the real thought leader for the indie author community, to lead this along with Jane Dystel, a publishing lifer, and now a literary agent with a lot of clients who have published both independently and with houses. That panel is really about exploring how publishers and authors can work together more effectively. That is the most important topic for authors in the years to come. Authors will also be highly informed by Data Guy. His talk with Cader will really bring the relative economics of self-publishing versus being published into bold relief.

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