PUBLISHING BUSINESS CONFERENCE & EXPO: DAY TWO

Revised on March 13, 2010 to include formatting and links. . . .

Tired!

A second long day of back-to-back sessions at the Publishing Business Conference & Expo here in breezy New York City. I have pages and pages of notes, but limited energy to turn them into anything coherent at 10:30 pm.

Tuesday, March 9 2010:

Awakened again from a deep sleep by hotel alarm clock at 7:00 am, and needed to get myself together for an 8:30 am session. I know, right? 8:30 am? I thought I smelled crack smoke when I walked in here. . . .

The line at the Starbucks on the 8th floor was so long I had to go down to the one on the first floor for my Venti Americano (two Sweet-N-Lows, no room) and some undifferentiated pastry thing, but I still made it back up to the first session in plenty of time.

Reinventing Today’s Publishing Company (8:30)

This was in one of the medium-sized rooms—y’know, bigger than the small ones but smaller than Steve Forbes’s. There was something wrong—or several things wrong—with the sound system, but I could hear most of what was said through bursts of static and the incessant sirens from the street below. Apparently there is always an emergency happening in Manhattan, and during the brief gaps between emergencies taxi drivers honk at each other. Loudly.

But I digress. The seminar featured Cathie Black, who was identified (it actually seemed as though she identified herself) as “the First Lady of American Magazines.” As President of Hearst Magazines, she can afford to buy the title, I’m sure. She started out with the conference’s funniest joke. She brought a video to show but there was some technical difficulty that left her hanging a few seconds then she said, “This is why I believe in the future of print.” Still, her pro-magazine campaign had a certain stench of desperation about it. I think I agree that the readers are still there, but it appears the advertisers have run for the hills . . . and set up log cabins there.

Black was joined on stage by Jane Friedman of OpenRoad Integrated Media who may be the only person I’ve seen here who had nice things to say about Amazon—and liberally dropped Jeff Bezos’s name. She said something I want to have stitched in needlepoint to hang up over my fireplace: “Physical books represent civilization.”

When moderator Evan Schnittman of Oxford University Press asked them what they thought the percentage of the business e-books would represent in five years both women were smart enough to try to dodge the question, but Friedman finally committed to 40%. I’m going to go ahead and agree with her under the assumption that we’ll both be wrong within plus or minus 30%.

CEO Roundtable (10:00)

Sara Nelson, formerly of Publishers Weekly now of O, The Oprah Magazine moderated an interesting session featuring Margo Baldwin of Chelsea Green Publishing, Clint Greenleaf of Greenleaf Book Group, and Robert Miller of HarperStudio. The discussion continued to center around e-books and the assumption (with which I agree) that in the foreseeable future e-books will coexist with print books, not replace them. Robert Miller in particular had some interesting things to say about the poor state of the publishing business and how and why it was the publishing business’s fault.

The Book Publishers’ Social Media Strategy Guide (11:30)

Though you’re reading this on a blog that you may have arrived at from a Twitter post, please believe me that I’m still quite new to, and only partially literate in the language of digital social media. I was delighted to see this seminar available and found it interesting, enlightening, and will be studying up on some of the sites and ideas the panel shared with us for a while to come. In a few cases I was also happy to hear that I’ve already started doing a few things right. If you happen to notice me even more out there in the social media world, chances are it’s a direct result of some of the tips picked up at this session with Brett Cohen of Quirk Books, Debbie Stier of HarperStudio, and Kat Meyer of Next Chapter Communications. A few words of encouragement from Debbie Stier: “You can fan your own flames.”

Rethinking Copyright for the Digital World (3:00)

Chris Keneally of the Copyright Clearance Center gave a fast and cogent rundown of the basic parameters of copyright law—a very big subject he narrowed down to some bullet points that every media professional better damn well know. Keneally stayed on to moderate the day’s next (and last) session:

Rethinking Author Contracts for the Digital World (4:00)

Chris Keneally was joined by agent John Silbersack and lawyer Sara Pearl both of Trident Media Group. This was also very interesting for me, both as an author and an editor, and you should keep your eye on this blog for more on the primary subject of the session. Who owns the e-book rights to books written and published long before anyone ever thought of such a strange new thing? Random House and OpenRoad are getting ready to argue this out in court, and all eyes are on the outcome. Yes—really more on this subject in the weeks ahead.

And that was it for Tuesday’s conference.

Getting later here, but I can’t end without mentioning that, with the conference over for the day, I splurged on a ticket to the new play A Behanding in Spokane at a theater literally right across the street from the hotel. It was the theater event of my life—seriously. Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell were so freakin’ good I’m in awe. It’s almost hard to believe I was actually there. If you are anywhere near New York City or can get here before the limited run ends, I beg you—beg you—go see this play.

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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