City Spotlight: Exploring Seattle's Book Ecosystem
When the Modernist Cuisine project was first taking shape, Editor-in-Chief Wayt Gibbs looked to the generous spirit that infuses Seattle’s literary community. “A huge help was getting advice from Ed Marquand, who has produced gorgeous, small-run art books for many years,” he says. “We learned everything we needed to know about making deluxe, high-end editions. He was very free and open with his counsel, putting us in touch with prepress company iocolor. Both Ed and iocolor connected us with talent: copy editors, typesetters, proofreaders. We drew on their alumni.”
The result was the six-volume, $625 Modernist Cuisine set that set the foodie world on fire in 2011, and which could never have been published in its final form with a traditional publishing model. Seattle’s tech industry informs the nature of publishing in Seattle, and not just in terms of digital publishing. “If we had taken a traditional publishing route, we wouldn’t have had the freedom to scale up to this size. This view — that big payoffs come from big gambles — is not unusual for Seattle and the West Coast. If you’re going to do something new, you have to come out of the gate strong with your first effort. Go big or go home,” Gibbs adds.
Book publishing has been influenced by its surroundings in the Pacific Northwest. The weather contributes to the desire to hunker down and read, write and explore a rich inner life. What better to do on a rainy day than poke around the architectural marvel of the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library or go to a reading at Elliott Bay Books or take a writing class at Hugo House or Hedgebrook?
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It’s not all sweetness and light, however. Like Seattle’s overcast skies, Amazon casts a long shadow over the city, but that’s not always a bad thing for the literary community. Independent bookstores continue to shutter, in large part due to the shift to online commerce and the rise of ebooks. (As the second-largest retailer in the U.S., Kirkland-based Costco has also played a part in shifting book-buying habits — getting your book onto pallets and into their warehouses virtually guarantees thousands of sales.) Amazon’s strong-arm tactics with publishers both large and small has not been lost on the literary community, either. However, Amazon does bring many positives to the city. With the onset of its publishing program, the online behemoth has drawn fresh publishing talent to the city. “Amazon has perked things up quite a bit. There’s a whole infusion of new people who moved here to work on their publishing program,” says Adrian Liang, associate publisher at becker&mayer!, one of the largest book packagers in the U.S.
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