Barge Bash Barometer?
Having been very recently reorganized out of my vice president position at a book publishing company, I've been neck-deep in conversations that can be placed into one of three categories:
1. supportive: "How could they do that to you?"
2. Zen: "One door closes and another opens."
3. gloom: "I hate what this industry has become; I keep looking for ways to get out."
I will freely admit to feeling all three. Emotional reactions all, at first I was furious that it happened and more than ready to bag publishing, move full-time to my "Escape Hatch" in the Catskills and get a job at the mall. That option may yet happen, but the Zen option is where I find myself most often. Well, at least as "Zen" as a New York Jew can get.
I'm afraid that I'm one of those annoying people who are excited by change. Over the years, I've doubtlessly made staff and friends a little crazy with my rants about the exciting times we're in, and the possibilities that brings for delivering content--particularly in the educational environment. Just think of what we'll be able to do for disadvantaged students, and how much better students will learn if we present content in different ways, and custom!!! ... You get the picture.
But I sometimes wonder about the general "emotional" state of the people in the industry-which means, of course, in some ways, the state of the industry itself.
The two biggest publishing events of the summer season are BookExpo America (BEA) and the NY Bookbinder's Guild annual Barge Bash. The Barge Bash was last week-approximately 800 of my closest friends gathered to celebrate my birthday, thank you very much.
The Bash comes, of course, with a somewhat different purpose and audience than BEA. The Guild is rather vendor-driven (print and prepress), and the attendees at the Bash tend to come from vendors and production/design/manufacturing staff at publishers lucky enough to have a vendor provide them with a ticket. And it is just a party, after all.
Generally speaking, these are the folks in the trenches (for publishers and vendors) dealing with some combination of:
1. keep "old" revenue coming in;
2. figure out both the present and future for content delivery;
3. satisfy customers who want everything, but don't necessarily understand or know what they want;
4. implement someone else's (often not-so-brilliant) ideas for content delivery;
5. do it cheaper;
6. keep the passion for publishing that got you into this maelstrom in the first place.
Gather people going through similar circumstances like these in one place, give them a little free alcohol, and you get some very interesting conversations.
Of course, there are many fascinating discussions about new software, hardware, developments in the industry, etc. But also over the years, I've seen the mood of the Bash reflect the times in our industry-from buoyant ("there's no end to the good times") to frightened ("did you hear that X is buying Y and laying off the whole manufacturing dept.?") to bitter ("All the damn work is going offshore!") to ... ???
What I heard a lot of this year was frustration and unease. Not at all surprising, considering what we're going through as an industry. Folks want to know what's next and they want to know that it will be OK (whatever that means). However, they don't necessarily have a lot of confidence in those charged with providing direction and figuring it out.
We will figure it out, of course. But it's all hands on deck to do so. The old publishing models are dead or dying-not necessarily a bad thing. The new models are morphing right in front of our eyes.
This is the fun part!
With this blog, I hope to discuss with you not just the "temperature" of the industry, but how do we succeed? Who's got a new way to do something that's worth a look? Who's saying something interesting that we should discuss? This, by the way, should be you.