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What’s Yours is Mine: Ethics and Etiquette of Mobile Communication

14 Jun

Living in the information age, I have heard lectures on technology’s effect on print publication in numerous journalism and English classes.  In my classes, we debate questions like:

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Books About Business: Typo

6 Jul

Continuing my trend—starting with The Smartest Guys in the Room—of reading books about grand business failures, I recently finished the just-published Typo: The Last American Typesetter or How I Made and Lost 4 Million Dollars by David Silverman. It’s about how he and his mentor bought Clarinda, a large typesetting company, in the late ‘90s that they—slowly at first and then quickly—drove into the ground. I’ve wanted to write about this book for a while but have been mulling over exactly what to say because, overall, I mixed feelings about it.

I really like the way that the book—as what I would consider creative nonfiction—related both the anecdotal side of the typesetting industry along with specific business and technical details. (In particular, I liked the informal financial statements that came at the end of each chapter/section.) This combination is something I’ve been looking for in a book more specifically devoted to book publishing but have yet to find. That is, you get memoirs like Jason Epstein’s Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future or straight nuts-and-bolts publishing information like Dan Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book, 15th Edition but I haven’t come across anything that has really effectively married those two approaches in one book nearly as well as Silverman does.

On the downside, whether intentional or not, Silverman never comes across as particularly likeable or sympathetic. Part of this is certainly because of the situation he found himself in: He went from IT geek to president of a company without ever having supervised or managed anyone in his life. In addition, his primary motivation seemed to be almost exclusively money: to turn Clarinda around, go public, and then cash out. Consequently, he never really demonstrates much affinity for his employees (at all!), his customers, books in general or typesetting in particular. One final thing that really struck me was that—I would guess—at least 4-6 times in the book he talks about how fat the women are that he finds himself around. I mean, that may well have been true but, given the fact this was a characterization that didn’t register with me as occurring with men (or, even more importantly, relevant to the subject at hand), all it ultimately did was make him look even more like a jackass unsympathetic. At the very least, some judicious editing of about six or so sentences in the book would have put him in a more positive light.

I think the best lesson that the book shows budding entrepreneurs is that you must do the necessary financial due diligence for both the specific company you want to start/buy as well as the industry in general. Very late—too late for Clarinda—in the book Silverman finally breaks down which of Clarinda’s offices are making money and, not too surprisingly, it turns out that the company was effectively dead on arrival from the point he and his partner Dan Coyne had bought it, mainly due to industry outsourcing of typesetting to India. (Not all of this is Silverman’s fault by any means; there is a whole subplot concerning the way Coyne bamboozled everyone involved from the top to the bottom.)

Certainly, for anyone interested in the big issues of globalization and outsourcing as well as entrepreneurship and typesetting or even just how (not) to manage your employees, this is a book with a wealth of information in it despite, in my opinion, not coming from a particular likeable narrative voice.

Mark

Book Publishing Industry News: Simon & Schuster Sets Up Indian Publishing Program

8 Jan

From The Book Standard (alas, now defunct) on January 3, 2007:

“Following a year of getting noticed as one of the fastest-growing English-language markets in the world, including the country of honor position at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, India is getting some new attention from Simon & Schuster. The publishing company will launch an Indian publishing program in early 2007, following up on the opening of an office in New Delhi in 2006.”

India is the biggest and newest expanding publishing market in the world; this is the third or fourth time in the last few months that I’ve heard something major and publishing related about it. As my previous post noted, it was only last week that we received our initial payment for licensing the foreign rights to one of our textbooks to a publisher in India. In addition–and also biomedical related–on Friday afternoon I was looking at a new biomedical textbook at our BET (biomedical equipment technology program) here at TSTC Waco written by an author in India but published by a major American textbook publisher. There seems–okay, it doesn’t seem, there just is— a big trend toward moving all aspects of book publishing to India.
This really hit home as I recalled a conversation I had last month with the president of a typesetting company that works primarily on university press and textbook projects in Austin, Texas. Recently his company merged with a much larger typesetting & composition company in India so we were chatting about how that had come about. He was telling me that the big North American textbook publishers have been making serious efforts to move all their set-up/prepress to India. (According to him doing that isn’t necessarily cheaper than doing it in the United States–yet–but it will be soon.) Given that, when the opportunity presented itself they seized upon the chance to make a direct business-to-business connection with an Indian service provider.

In terms of the global economy this is, of course, nothing new. But it does hit home in a very real sense once you see how it affects your own small corner of an industry. For anyone interested in the outsourcing phenomenon, I would suggest taking a long look at Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat [Updated and Expanded]: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. Although there have been some pretty intense critiques of the particulars of his analysis and conclusions, Friedman does provide a solid overview of this historic “leveling” of the business playing field.

Mark

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