BEA: For some in publishing, digital is just too much


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It’s the first day of Book Expo America, and here at New York’s Javitz Center things are quiet. Booksellers and librarians are going to a series of business-oriented sessions in smaller rooms as publishers set up their booths for the crowds expected on the main floor Wednesday. Huge wooden crates hold box after box after box of books. If these boxes are any indication, galleys -- which were missing, in large part, last year -- may be back. In volume.

But just because it’s quiet doesn’t mean nothing is happening. First thing Tuesday morning, a panel of chief executives -- David Shanks from Penguin, Skip Prichard from Ingram, Bob Miller from Workman, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s Jonathan Galassi -- spoke before a huge, mostly-filled room. They were joined by agent Esther Newberg from ICM and the president of the Author’s Guild, Scott Turow.


In a frank conversation that veered between collegial and contentious, they debated the state of the industry. The upshot: The vicissitudes of e-books and digital publishing are a thing to be weathered, not celebrated. Only Miller seemed ready to embrace new technologies and the variety of new ideas for publishing that have come with them, but his forward-thinking imprint, HarperStudio, was shuttered shortly after he left for Workman earlier this year.

Galleycat has some blow-by-blow, but my favorite takeaway came from the very quotable Newberg, who is skeptical about the changes that digital media are bringing to publishing. ‘One of the only good things about being old,’ she said, ‘is that I won’t have to deal with this.’

Later Tuesday, I’m going to talk to people who have exactly the opposite attitude. Stay tuned.

-- Carolyn Kellogg in New York