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Friday, June 6, 2008

What's Wrong with Today's Publishing?

Despite Jane Friedman's comments last weekend at BEA about how much she loved being CEO of HarperCollins, the ax fell and her ten-year reign of looking at the world from the pinnacle of publishing came to an end. Read more about it here. Stepped down "to pursue other interests?" Umm . . . doubtful.

Looking up (way up) at the pinnacle of publishing from my small mole hill of the book world convinces me that, while I would love to earn a Pinnacle salary, what we do is more worthwhile and important. Permit me to step up on my soap box a moment.

Large houses are so tied to the bottom line and dinosaur-like thinking that they have lost their publishing souls. The idea of producing quality, both in production and concept, is largely foreign to much of the New York establishment. Sure, there are many good people in the City and within its publishing network who see the problem, talk about the problem, and a few who actually try to DO something about the problem. But where has it gotten them?

Publishing, to me at least, is about ideals, culture, education, elevating the literary soul. We have selected a core niche (military history) and do our best to produce high quality, original concepts. The "bottom line" is important, of course, but I often accept titles I know will not make us a dime. But they scream to be published, and published well. We are human, we make mistakes, and sometimes we succeed and sometimes we do not. But we know why we exist, and it is not all about dollars.

Someone asked me at BEA why I left my successful law practice to start a company at the bottom of the publishing world in a small niche, on my own.

The answer rolls of my tongue as easily today as it did ten years ago:

Who will care how many bankruptcy, or tort, or criminal, or business-related cases I handled when they lower my box into the ground? My files will be shredded, and another drone will take my place. And what, exactly, will I have contributed to the betterment of the world? Now, someday, somewhere, in a format not yet invented, a person not yet born will read one of our books and learn something useful. The words will create excitement, stir his senses, stimulate his soul! Perhaps he will look at the spine and wonder who Savas Beatie was, or read the acknowledgments and ponder our contributions, large and small, to the uplifting of mankind.

Somehow, I doubt you will get an answer remotely similar to mine if you asked Ms. Friedman or others in similar Pinnacle positions this same question.

1 comment:

Paul Taylor said...

Ted, amen to your sentiment as to why you do what you do. Change a few words here or there, and I'm sure the same, essential rational would apply to the vast majority of authors out there who toil at the "day job" and then slave well into the night over their labor of love ms. This will go on for years, all the while knowing that they probably won't net much, if any, profit from their effort. Nevertheless they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they have added something permanent to the body of knowledge.

Paul Taylor