Taking a Couple Steps Back (While Running)

My college friend Matt once said, “You’re not a writer, you’re just an alcoholic who occasionally types.”* Had I been sober, I’m sure my punch would have landed better. The division between writing and typing, in its own way, most certainly exists in internet marketing in publishing.

Courtesy of the LIFE Archive

Courtesy of the LIFE Archive

In 2007 and even a little in 2008, we were allowed to simply type: experimenting with new media and building shiny objects online. Nobody was getting laid off. You didn’t need to differentiate between spinning your wheels and actually getting somewhere. Which is to say: your YouTube video could get 250K+ hits, but you didn’t need to correlate that to increased book sales. (Because, really, you couldn’t.) There was a philosophical undercurrent, something along the lines of, “Let’s not let what happened to the music industry happen to publishing.” In the past eight months or so those currents grew into rapids. Given the economic impetus – like many in New York I’ve had a number of friends lose their jobs – we feel that vanity projects are over and our experiments must either bear fruit or fail quickly  (and cheaply). 

At Macmillan we fill lunch breaks and happy hours with endless debates on how to transition books to an online space. After reading Al Silverman’s The Time of their Lives (a light survey of the U.S. publishing world), I can’t help but relate our current troubles to those in the 1970s. Among other factors, the boom of the mass market format rescued the industry. What will rescue us now?

Which is a long way of saying it’s nice to hear HarperStudio‘s Debbie Stier convey that same sense of urgency. I direct people to Debbie any chance I can get – in fact, she’s speaking at my BEA panel on May 29th. Her quotes in a recent Observer article helped me take a couple steps back to realize that not everyone in publishing is in my little echo chamber. Which is another way of saying, everyone pay attention. (Full disclosure: Leon Keyfah also interviewed me for the article, and I think he did a fine job of framing people’s excitement and concerns.) 


*I don’t wish to mislead. As much as there’s a clear need for internet marketing to experiment and find solutions, soon, I am still a frequent imbiber of Maker’s Mark on the rocks. Where else are the good ideas going to come from?

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