Bookbuilders of Boston is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing together people involved in book publishing and manufacturing throughout New England. Our blog describes industry events that we sponsor or attend.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Retirement Bash for a Bookbuilders Leader

Last Thursday many of us attended a unique event: a retirement roast for John Walsh of Harvard University Press. Held in Charlestown, MA, the roast was a charitable event with proceeds benefiting the Education Fund.

Many were probably a little apprehensive about the format ..."insult comics" were popular when John started at Harvard 37 years ago, but humor has changed and we wanted to wish John well rather than embarrass him. There was no reason to worry--Don Rickles was nowhere in sight, and, at least for the first two hours when I was in attendance, we enjoyed entirely painless jokes at the expense of the industry or self-deprecating presenters.

Whenever a comedian is required, Bookbuilders looks to Dwiggins Honoree Chuck Wallace. Even though Chuck wasn't available for the roast, his monologue stole the show. Tom Plain gamely delivered Chuck's prepared remarks, making the references to Tom himself even more amusing.

The production values for the roast were impressive, especially since I'm pretty sure that no one from the Friars Club was hired as a consultant. "The Fabulous Finnerans," for example, were accompanied by the Dropkick Murphys' "Tessie" on their walk to the dais. The Finnerans' own contribution was musical as well, with personalized lyrics and heartfelt delivery (if not always in tune).

The evening was bittersweet, of course, since no one wants to see the old gang breaking up. In addition, there's a sense that we are entering a largely electronic era (after all, this is a blog and not a newsletter). In John's spirit we embrace the future and technology, but we look back with fondness on the days of press checks, bluelines, mechanicals, and color keys.

Monday, May 9, 2011

SSP Conference at Copley This June

The 2011 annual meeting of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) will be held in Boston this year at the Westin Copley Place. The event runs from June 1-3, and the theme is “It’s What Counts: How Data Transforms Our World.” Several Bookbuilders members are also members of SSP, whose mission is “to advance scholarly publishing and communication and the professional development of its members through education, collaboration, and networking among individuals in the field.”

Conference highlights for book publishers include the following:

  • Opening Keynote Address - "Approximating Omniscience," by Jon Orwant, Director of Engineering, Google Books, and co-author of Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books.
  • Plenary Address - "Who Needs Libraries and Publishers? The Future of Scholarly Communication," by John Palfrey, Professor of Law at Harvard University, and Co-Author of Born Digital, Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.
Other session topics include preserving and curating research data, data accessibility, usability testing, e-books, and single sign-on technology. There are six pre-meeting day sessions on June 1, networking opportunities, and an exhibitor’s marketplace.

Discounted early-bird registration ends this Friday, May 13. For more information or to register, visit the SSP site.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Change Comes to Publishing

When writing up industry events for the blog, I try to summon the standout themes: the recurring emphasis. I’m happy to start this post about “Making Information Pay” with an observation made by my colleague: “From what I have seen today, publishing is hiring. 

Fran Toolan and Andrew Savikas (?) (center, back)

At least three conversations we had at breakfast involved people who have been with their present employers for one month or less. And that’s not even counting me! So, we start with some optimism about the state of the industry.

Another common theme among speakers was the need for new systems (shared databases) and standards (such as EPUB and ONIX). The importance of electronic content means that it can no longer be produced in a separate workflow, as an afterthought to print. Data is of increasing importance, and there is a frustration with the workflow silos that impede access to information across various publishing departments. It feels like a bit of a tipping point for old-guard publishing culture, and everyone understands the challenges of this change.

Executive sponsorship of change is critical, according to Andrew Savikas of Safari Books Online and O’Reilly Media, especially since some necessary transitions will not yield impressive ROI in the short term. Several speakers also advocated a period of experimentation with various approaches as opposed to a wholesale overhaul. As such, the present environment is not for leaders faint of heart—commitment, belief, and persistence are essential.

The stakes, however, are becoming too high to ignore. There is a growing market for “chunked” content (as opposed to whole books or even chapters), and book publishers are often not in a position to exploit this potential revenue stream. Increasingly, said David Marlin from MetaComet Systems, rights management (“content curation”) at a granular level is critical to the longevity of a publisher’s brand and its author relations.

Director of the BISG (Book Industry Study Group), Scott Lubeck, ended with the group's vision statement, which seems both current and apt. In part, the group seeks to help "build and support a new industry network enabling new opportunities for profitable growth." There was a sense that Thursday's attendees were eager to rise and transform: it is an exciting time to be in publishing.