Conferences & Conventions: 2008 Publishing Business Conference & Expo

11 Mar

book-expo-logo.jpgGreetings from New York as the last two days of the 2008 Publishing Business Conference & Expo have just wrapped up!

Normally I would have tried to update daily about the particular sessions I went to but, given the amount of information I took in—or, rather, am still trying to process in conjunction with the copious notes I took throughout—I’ll try to blog about the specifics over the next week or so. (Then again, to make my way to La Guardia tomorrow I’ll end up there like three hours before my flight leaves so I may get to this sooner rather than later.) There are, however, some overarching conclusions I’ve already reached.

To be honest, my primary concern when I was trying to decide to attend or not was whether it would be worth my time (especially because of all the traveling I’ve already been doing this semester making sales calls) and, even more importantly, the school’s money. I’ve been to a lot of conferences and conventions in my life and while most of them can be moderately interesting or informative if you work hard enough at it, a lot of them are really used to justify going to fun-filled locations where the shopping/eating/touristing is good and where, as well, nobody from the home office can really check to see if you’re participating or not. It’s always left a pretty bad taste when I’ve been one of the worker bees left behind while other folks got to go on institutionally supported boondoggles, so I wanted to be able to justify this trip to everyone else who was still in Waco while I was being blinded in my hotel room by the lights from Times Square.

Happily, I can report, it was GREAT! As my first conference devoted to the mechanics of publishing—as opposed to going to higher ed gatherings more tangentially related to book publishing at best—this was absolutely everything I could have hoped it would be. There were more sessions than I could possibly attend—even though I made, I think, ten over the past two days—covering the subjects at the forefront of what we’re doing our best to become better versed in: book distribution strategies, e-paper, new media marketing, successful book launches, inventory management, XML coding and metadata tagging, content management systems, shortening the content production cycle, and overarching trends in publishing. (And more, so much more!) Plus, unlike being discussions directed by talking heads you’ve never heard of—you know, like so much of what you see on cable news networks—there were really heavy hitting upper-level administrator types here from the likes of Columbia University Press, Oxford University Press, HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Merriam-Webster. (And more, so much more!) Plus, it was handy having all the types of vendors we’d conceivably use in one exhibit hall instead of dealing with them piecemeal one by one.

Granted, one caveat would be that if you go to publishing conferences on a regular basis—like I said, this was the first one I’ve been to—I suspect that the ongoing “conversation” you’d hear would become increasingly familiar/repetitive. But, given that the four of us full-timers in the office more or less backed into book publishing with no prior experience beforehand—I was a broken down old English teacher, Grace is a graduate of TSTC Waco’s graphics program, Todd was a long-time journalist, and Melanie worked for a trust company dealing with retirement accounts—this was exactly the right combination of macro and micro information about the publishing industry. And, for sure, the one thing I kept thinking over and over was that all four of us should have been here instead of just me. So that’s certainly something we’ll be looking at when developing our budget needs assessment—as it’s officially called—for next year.

It was a nice change of pace today, though, when things wrapped up at five to finally make my way out of the hotel for my one walking tour through the city. I walked 38 blocks north on Broadway to Zabar’s, a kind of local grocery store institution, to buy one of their coffee mugs for my blushing bride. (The Upper West Side is one of my favorite parts of New York so it was loads of fun to just stroll along and take it all in.) Then, I made it 18 blocks back toward the hotel before I needed to take a break. (One of these days I’ll actually internalize the fact that cowboy boots may indeed embody some “spirit of the West” ideal but they’ll turn your feet into bloody stumps in no time at all.) Thankfully, right at that point I was going by the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, which shows moderately indie films, and wandered in to catch Gus Van Sant’s new movie Paranoid Park. (It’s not the kind of move for everyone but I liked it, especially its visual style, eclectic soundtrack, and overall sound editing.) I also learned, by virtue of eating at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant after the movie, that being from Texas means you probably shouldn’t expect the greatest Mexican food in the world in New York City.

Finally, I have to say that even I—as a neophyte publisher—know enough to know that this convention was not BookExpo America, the biggest, grandest, and most important of North American publishing conferences. Then again, it wasn’t trying to be. And so, based on what I saw the aims of the 2008 Publishing Business Conference & Expo being, I think it hit the mark just as well as it possibly could have.

Mark

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3 Responses to “Conferences & Conventions: 2008 Publishing Business Conference & Expo”

  1. Morris Rosenthal March 12, 2008 at 8:42 am #

    Mark,

    Argh, was at the conference Tuesday afternoon, would have enjoyed meeting you. I only had time to sit in two sessions before I had to head out. Based on both the floor show and the sessions schedule, I thought it was the best organized publishing conference I’d been to for working publishers, with a great mix of small and large. I wished I’d been able to come in for the whole thing and talk with people, which is the main value at those things. The speakers and panels I saw actually had a lot of experience in the field, as opposed to the professional self promoters a lot of conferences end up featuring.

    BTW, I couldn’t find your e-mail in my outbox, though I have to believe we’ve talked in the past, maybe on a list. I’ve been doing a series of guest publisher interviews on my blog lately, as I’ve gotten lazy about trying to be original. Any interest in being a guest interviewee?

    Morris

  2. Stephen Tiano March 13, 2008 at 6:04 am #

    Sorry, I couldn’t make it in, Mark. But judging by how good I feel to have gotten the books out the door that I needed to, I’ d have been miserable coming back to them with my deadlines slipping away. Of course, nothing helps me avoid the inevitable hangover-like feeling I get when I look up to see there isn’t another book in line for me to start on.

    I wonder if I’ll ever get over the unsettled feeling that rises up when I can’t yet see the next project.

    So … the conference sounds interesting, if not quite on point to what I–as a book designer and production artist–would have been interested in. At least not from a purely practical standpoint. I guess, mixing with publishers might have been beneficial: breaking the ice, perhaps stumbling on one or more who could use my services. But I’m not sure this would be the ideal event for me to have attended.

    And that raises a question: Can you suggest a regularly occurring conference that I might–strictly as a freelance book designer and page comp artist–be wise to attend. Obviously, I’m interested in making contacts that could generate business. But, perhaps because Rich Hendel’s On Book Design, has made such an impression on me, I am interested in hearing about the process other book designers engage in, rather than lectures or seminars on, say, software techniques.

  3. Mark Long March 13, 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    Hi Morris,

    Sorry to have missed this week. It would have been great to talk shop. I agree: it was good to hear from publishing insider types as opposed to thinly veiled sales pitches from vendors. (I’ve seen more than enough of that on the academic side at different conferences.) I’d be happy to be interviewed on your blog. I’ll drop you a line via email following the 1903 in the subject line protocol etc.

    Hey Steve,

    Let me mull over the conference strategy you have in mind and see what I can come up with . . . nothing comes to mind per se right away, but let me ask around.

    Mark

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