I did a panel yesterday at NYU as part of the summer publishing program on “New Visions” for publishing. The group was put together by Leslie Schnur. I shared the stage with four very articulate co-presenters who gave very diverse views of the future. Our audience was a full room of about 50-100 (I wasn’t counting; I didn’t know I’d be writing this piece) very attentive 20-somethings with a serious interest in publishing.
Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press spoke optimistically of a revival of book reading, as in printed ones, and he spoke passionately about the importance of editorial selection and advocacy as part of a social mission publishers have to bring good writing to readers.
Carol Hoenig, a writer and consultant who works with Author Solutions, told about her own experience successfully self-publishing a novel (she thinks selling 1500 copies is successful, and I agree with her) and explaining how Author Solutions helps aspiring writers “get past the gatekeepers.”
Brian O’Leary of Magellan explained the new business models enabled by print-on-demand and how to think about them. Brian pointed out that POD models make sense for books that sell as many as 500 or 1000 copies a year, and that caught Dan’s attention, because, as he put it, “a book that sells 500 or 1000 a year is solid backlist for us.” Dan has been comfortable printing a 3 year supply; Brian’s math suggests reconsidering that formula.
Will Schwalbe, who had a 21-year career as one of New York’s top commercial editors at Morrow and Hyperion, explained his new web business, Cookstr.com, which aggregates recipes from more than 300 of the top chefs and cookbook authors in the world. Since, as any reader of this blog knows without my having to report, I used my presentation time to talk about the shift from horizontal to vertical, Will’s presentation had the great virtue of reinforcing the message I had delivered three presentations before.
Will made good use of the audience. He asked, by a show of hands, how many people liked Italian food. Just about everybody. How many cooked? Almost everybody. How many people got recipes on the Internet? A lot. How many baked more than cooked? A good chunk. How many vegans? About none. How many vegetarians? A handful. How many would prefer a recipe with fewer than five ingredients? Quite a few.
He used that device to show how the tagging he invests in on his web site delivers a better user experience for somebody looking for precisely the right great recipe. What it triggered in my mind is “what an interesting way to collect information from an audience.”
After we all presented, there were lots of interested questions. What’s the business model of Cookstr? How does Seven Stories go about finding those great books Dan wants to publish? Does Author Solutions do publicity for books?
As the conversation evolved to a close, I realized I had a precious opportunity. Though I’m considered to be wildly (crazily?) forward-thinking in some circles, expecting print runs of books to nearly disappear in 20 years, for example, I am unabashedly conservative in others. For example, the idea of books as collaborative or social experiences leaves me cold and it really leaves me cold to think of interrupting good narrative reading to explore links and, particularly, to see video. Some people think storytelling will be reinvented to take advantage of things like this, which makes me scratch my head. But maybe it’s generational, I always think. Maybe today’s generation would find it boring not to have a video interlude interrupt unbroken text. Well, with all these very smart Born Digitals in one room, I’d use Schwalbe’s technique and ask!
So, with time running out, I got the indulgence of the organizers to ask the crowd a couple of questions. The first one was: “how many of you read ebooks.”
Two hands went up. Two.
The next question was not worth asking. But I sure got a dose of new information to ponder.