Report from the Publishing Business Conference: This Just In: Sky Not Falling!

Stay Excited: The Sky is NOT Falling!

I’m at this year’s Publishing Business Conference and Expo as an attendee and as a returning speaker (what the hell were they thinking?!?). It began Monday with an introduction and two keynote speakers who struck similar themes. And they were themes that some of us were very happy to hear—specifically, those of us who believe that these are incredibly exciting (albeit very difficult) times for the entire publishing industry. And that, furthermore, our industry is continuing to evolve, and is NOT dying.

This is a drum that my loyal readers (that’s you, sis) have heard me beat before.

Things began with Noelle Skodzinski, Editorial Director, Book Business and Publishing Executive magazines, setting the tone, espressing both frustration and humor about those who insist the industry is dying. The Monty Python clip of the dead being collected and one of the presumed dead insisting he was not, in fact, dead was “dead” on.

Josh Tryangiel, Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, spoke first on “A New Vision: How to Transform a Dying Media Brand.” As he put it so eloquently, “the world is not tired of print, it’s tired of sh***y print.” Words for all of us to live by.

Though he was uncomfortable with the word “turnaround”‘ he did in fact become editor of a magazine in deep trouble and led a dramatic transformation. It had just been sold, was publishing (unsuccessfully) by rote and not by inspiration.

As he pointed out, the digital era exposed the folly of magazines publishing out of habit. Also, that print offers things that digital cannot—it’s more of a “captive experience”, and fills an indispensable need for readers. He also spoke of quality (hallelujah!) quite a bit, pointing out that print allows the crafting of individual pages.

The lessons he suggested were obvious, but seem to have been lost by many publishers/publications:

  • Take nothing for granted
  • Every new platform is a new opportunity
  • Always be thinking about the reader, NOT market research.

And yes, by the way, changes he has brought about in the magazine have been dramatically successful…on every level.

He was followed by Marcus Leaver, President of Sterling Publishing who’ll be taking a new job as COO of Quarto His topic was no big deal, merely “10 Predictions for the Future of Book Publishing.” I won’t go through all 10 here, but you should hear them and I would be happy to share.

The important thing, to me, were the general themes that emerge when you view them on a macro level. All pointed to the future not being as scary as some say.

  • Real quality matters more than ever. Never forget what beautiful objects books are.
  • Less is more. The world does not need another book, it does need another original and well-done book.
  • Focus on the people buying the book. Give them choices for bundling print and digital.
  • Involve the author in marketing their book; they know their readers.
  • The biggest challenge is not e-books it is proving that publishers are necessary.

Hmmmm—quality, think about the reader, treat author and buyer as if they have brains, publishers must earn their stripes…

To me this adds up to a reminder about what’s always been great about publishing, and what so many have either forgotten or used e-books as an excuse to throw up their hands and claim the sky is falling. What we heard from yesterday’s keynote speakers was an eloquent reminder of what brought us all into this business—a passion for making great books and magazines, an excitement about pleasing our customers.

As I’ve said before, the sky is not falling. We’re publishing differently, we might be delivering some content differently. But passion still counts and quality will always count most of all.

Michael Weinstein is a member of the Publishing Executive Hall of Fame and has 35 years experience in production, manufacturing, content management and change management.

He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.

In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.
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  • CHECKProz

    The emphasis on quality is encouraging.

  • Davorado

    Yea for Quality! Also making sure people can find that quality content by properly promoting the content in digital formats and offering the premium print channel for those that want it.

  • Katmeis

    Excellent post. Great to hear the industry saying "involve the author in marketing their book; they know their readers." Spot on. This post makes me bummed I could not attend this year’s Publishing Business Conference. Sounds like they are starting the right conversations.

  • patlrob

    Michael, I like and appreciate your optimism. I agree that the sky is not falling. It’s just change isn’t always easy, and in the past three years we’ve experienced more change than ever. The strong and flexible will survive.

  • Marv Dunkiel

    How true, how true this blog is.

  • Tom Hicks

    Thoughtfully written.

  • Tom Hicks

    Thoughtfully written

  • Chris

    Bravo, Michael! A wonderful reminder of what has always been so great about the publishing industry — books! No matter what form they take. You have given me some well-spoken words to share with those who ask me doom-and- dismay questions about the industry. Thanks.

  • Bill P

    Best to date Micheal. Monty Python reference was brilliant!!!!

  • Michael Wettstein

    Michael Weinstein’s last blog was DEAD ON! We are making more beautiful books than ever and it is wonderful to be part of making them beautiful.

  • Marilyn Mower

    Can you share Marcus Leaver’s comments as promised?

  • Marilyn Mower

    Interesting thoughts about magazines and books