BookExpo America Report: Book Publishing Begins Anew as a Startup and Growth Industry

Over the decades that I have been going to BEA and its predecessor, “The ABA Show,” a full regime of floor walking was at the base of the experience. This was followed by a full box or two of books that went out the expo door with the freight forwarder of the year. It became the ballast that found its way to my garage and shelves.

This year I came away with a USB stick in my pocket and 10 new titles on it in e-Book format. A few choice paperbacks in my carry-all. No cartons of books—too much work.

But I also noticed that something more important had changed aside from my take-away practices.

During the two days that I was able to attend, I came to realize that while the industry is humming with anticipation and determination to scale the new heights of change ahead, no one really has a good idea of what those heights and changes are and where they are taking us.

Rick Joyce, the Perseus Chief Marketing Officer and ever the harbinger of possibility, struck the chord for me in an afternoon publisher panel for the Publishers Launch event. He said that publishers in recent years have thought of themselves as a matured industry. In fact, he noted, with everything in a state of flux, book publishing is now a growth industry—to which I would add: and a disruptor and startup as well.

The excitement and promise is palpable. Our esteemed (and I mean that) giants such as Random House, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin, Macmillan, McGraw Hill, Hachette, et al, soldier on with an uninterrupted stream of wonderful—and not-so-wonderful—books, and with stacks of posters and samples promising the great reads we have always enjoyed. At the same time, they are experimenting with all kinds of digital editions, bundling, subscription, promotional and author-empowerment models.

Amazon, Google, Kobo and the like now mix comfortably on the floor with legacy brethren such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Barnes & Noble (although Apple was nowhere to be seen). Microsoft has now assumed a ready-to-leap-behind-the-scenes role. Independent publishers, who exhibit on their own or in clusters of sponsored IBPA or Pub West booths, have finally made it to the pages of PW’s Show Daily. Print on demant self-publisher services such as Lulu, Author House, Create Space, Atlas, Xulan and many others proudly display in combined exhibits among ForeWord Reviews, Ippy and Nautilus book award winners

Significantly below the surface of the more than 1,300 exhibits was the undercurrent of curiosity and eagerness to explore trends and innovation and new means of data capture in the BEA educational sessions, the BISG presentations to come (which I had to miss), and the IDPF and Publishers Launch all-day events on Monday.

Themes that emerged in all of the forums included:

  • The deconstruction of the industry with the decoupling of its value proposition as more independent development, marketing and distribution services emerge,
  • Penetration of the USA as a market for newly competitive European and Latin American book sales rather than for the sale of rights,
  • The simultaneous survival and displacement of print by ebooks,
  • The astonishing regulatory invasion of our turf by the Justice Department and the courts in an unprecedented and big way,
  • The new and gingerly careful leap into the services and publishing space by literary and other agents and other author support services,
  • The incredible opportunities for new ventures as a result of cloud services and new mobile, browser, html and ePub reflowable and fixed format content access, and
  • The increasingly shorter life spans of arduously developed new workflows that were state of the art a year ago and are now out of date.

The list can go on and on—but there is no element of fundamental practice and best practice that is not simultaneously under siege by opportunistic practice.

Change was in the air in other infrastructure ways.

IBPA, whose Publishing University filled workshop rooms for 2 or 3 days before BEA for 20 years, decoupled last year, holding it on the Coast this year. Its stellar Ben Franklin Awards and annual meeting dinner was held this year at a separate invitation-only event that filled a banquet hall at the Marriott on the evening of Day 1. Terry Nathan, Executive Director, who replaced his late mother, the irrepressible Jan Nathan, received an award for 20 years of outstanding service from Jonathan Kirsch, IBPA’s longtime counsel, and Florrie Kichler, President of IBPA.

Together with Lisa Krebs, associate director, their volunteer board and staff, Terry and Florrie have brought IBPA (formerly PMA) into the new age as a cutting edge service organization, and the principal voice in the industry for independent publishers.

More change: last year, ForeWord Reviews moved its popular Book of the Year Awards ceremonies to the American Library Association annual meeting, at which a lot of the library market energy prevails—although there may have been almost as many librarians as independent booksellers at BEA this year.

I, too, have become a case study of startup and growth renewed. At the end of June I leave for Southern California again—from whence I returned east 20 years ago. I had already begun my change five years ago with a new online publication service business. It was a conversion from the comfortable perch of a seasoned old-timer, well schooled in the practices of the trade—to a wet-behind-the-ears startup with growth potential. Now I leave the East Coast behind and head west to California once more to start yet another chapter in my own life story. Startup and growth enters my personal as well as professional life.

I will spare you the details here—but to those of my friends and associates who know me, it will come as no surprise that the necessities of circumstance that are now moving me west provide the excuse for me to explore new roles for myself in product and business development in the independent and demand publishing space.

To them, as well as those of my readers who chanced upon me in recent months or years, I can report to you that from my perch, I see the world as your oyster—check in at the home pages of the major trade associations (AAP, AUP, IBPA, BISG, etc), Google your favorite business or content level keyword—and enter the new world ahead of us!

I will still be blogging from time to time. And I will be a nanosecond on the net and a Skype yawn away.

Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.

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  • lenfeldman

    Eugene, I wish you well on your move back to the West Coast and your new business! I agree with your wrap-up of BEA and the Ben Franklin awards (the latter of which I attended for the first time.) However, I disagree with your contention that book publishing is a "growth" industry again–at least, not yet. Major publishers are treading water–trading lower-margin print book sales for higher-margin eBook sales to make more money on less revenues. The growth is coming from smaller, digital-focused publishers, online retailers (most of which provide self-publishing services,) and some independent service providers.

  • dgruetter

    Great article. I completely agree.

  • Fiorella DeLima

    Intertaining article and best of luck in your new endeavors. I think the publishing industry is more about survival and resourcefulness rather than "a start-up" or & ‘growth’ industry. I’ve been doing production work now for about 27 years and I find it’s an ever changing landscape, or more like a wild roller coaster ride. Once comfortable with a new technology it immediately becomes absolete and we find ourselves running to catch up to the next. Publishing has been adventurous to say the least.