Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Cevin Bryerman

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Cevin Bryerman is Publisher and Vice President of Publishers Weekly, the well-known international trade magazine for book publishing. Recently Cevin spoke at Montreal’s Atwater Library and Computer Centre about the changes revolutionizing the publishing world.  His message there was reported to be “fatalistic, prescriptive, dismaying, and upbeat,” which probably reflects the way a large number of publishing people feel these days.

“The digital age is definitely here,” he told an auditorium packed with book industry professionals, “and you have to embrace it.”  Indeed, the revolution has not left PW untouched, and the challenge that magazine has faced in transforming itself from a traditional subscription based print trade magazine into something very different is a continuing process.

I’m hopeful that our wide ranging and hopefully provocative conversation will spur further discussions and perhaps even raise some controversy about the current condition and future prospects for all the elements of the publishing ecosystem. Publishers Weekly online here.  Very interesting (though brief) history of PW in Wikipedia here.

Susie Bright: Big Sex Little Death (A Memoir)

May 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, WritersCast

978-1580052641 – Seal Press – $24.95 – Hardcover (ebook and unabridged audio book available)

Reading Big Sex Little Death was a big surprise for me.  I’ve known Susie Bright for a long time and have worked with her at various times over the years.  I’ve long admired her work as a sex-positive revolutionist and a terrifically intrepid personality.  I guess I was expecting a sexual travelogue as memoir and a pop culture tone of voice, and maybe some dishing on what it’s like to be a famous sexpert.

In fact Big Sex Little Death is mostly a really well written story that focuses more on Susie’s early years with her very difficult though intelligent mother (and later years when she was able to live with her anthropologist/linguist father), and her very active life as a political radical.  In Southern California in the 70′s, Susie worked on a high school magazine called Red Tide, and later was an activist in the socialist movement of that period.  Where, yes, there was a lot of sex (and sexism).  Her radical political history was all new to me, and is very interesting to read about.

That was all before she became part of the pro-sex feminist movement in the 80′s, worked at the now famous Good Vibrations feminist sex shop, and helped found the now-famous lesbian sex magazine, On Our Backs, which for its seven year lifespan was hugely important in helping women define and own their sexuality.  And in many ways that is what is most important about this memoir, that it connects politics and sexuality and helps us remember where so much of the culture we take for granted today came from.

Writing mostly about her earlier years, Susie leaves room, I suppose, for a sequel where she can talk about her later work as a nationally known sex expert, talented writer, and important editor of innumerable anthologies of writing about sex and sexuality.

As one might expect, we had a great time talking about her book and some of her many exploits as a public sex figure in a bizarrely prudish society.  Ultimately this book should be read by anyone interested in late 20th century American culture, regardless of one’s gender, sexuality, interest in sex, out there or puritanical, it’s well worth your time.   And I am a big fan of Susie’s blog too – and I recommend her latest on “sex positive parenting” to anyone who has ever thought about what they are teaching (or not) their children about their own values.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Maxine Bleiweis

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?
I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Since so many of the people I’ve talked to in the Publishing Talks interviews have been in the areas of publishing and technology, I have wanted to broaden the conversation to include other perspectives.  And following the conversation with Hugh McGuire about the future of libraries (a hot topic it seems, as a recent post by Seth Godin seems to indicate), it made sense to talk to a librarian who is working on the issues of access and technology from the user side of the publishing equation.   I live near Westport, Connecticut, which has a fabulous library, with a myriad of public events, an incredibly active and engaged community, and a deep commitment to using technology to increase access to knowledge and information, as well as a wonderful and engaged staff.

Maxine Bleiweis is the Director of the Westport Public Library.   She is a terrifically innovative manager, known for her ability to predict trends and determine ways to meet the latest “customer” needs as they emerge.  Before she became director in Westport in 1998, she was director in Suffield, CT for six years and Newington, CT for 18 years.

I also noticed that she was recently named Outstanding Librarian for 2011 by the CT Library Association, so she is recognized by her peers as well as her own community.

Maxine has a great deal to say about publishing and technology, and her thoughts and ideas are well worth paying attention to.  And even though the Westport Public Library does represent the beliefs and commitment of a very affluent, educated and progressive town, what this library does to enrich the intellectual and artistic life of its community is not enabled simply by having more resources than others.  The principle at work here will work elsewhere – the idea of paying attention to what the community needs and doing everything possible to meet those needs is universally applicable.  You can see what they are doing here.

Maxine and I had a wide ranging conversation about books, community, the future of publishing in the digital age, how libraries will handle ebooks and digital access, and how some of the controversies that have arisen in these important areas may be resolved.

Peter Mountford: A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism

May 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-0-547-47335-2 – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – paperback – $15.95 (ebook versions available)

I read about this book a few months ago and knew from the title alone that I wanted to read this novel.  How many political novels are there (readable ones anyway)?  Well, it turns out that Peter Mountford is a terrific writer, and A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism is a very special debut novel, completely captivating and very subtle, even as it takes on some of the characteristics of a French farce (with the requisite literal and figurative doors opening and closing throughout).

The book is about Gabriel, a young former reporter, not that long out of Brown, now operating as a covert hedge fund analyst in Bolivia, which is on the verge of electing a new populist president.  Gabriel’s new job pays him incredibly well and puts him in the position of lying to absolutely everyone in his life, from his mother, a famous Chilean exile writer/professor (and a political radical), to all the journalists he cultivates, the older woman reporter he sleeps with, the young and beautiful press attache of the president to be (with whom he falls in love), to Evo (the presidential candidate himself) and everyone else in between.

One of the strengths of this novel is that there are so many well crafted characters in this novel who actually matter to the story – though I admit there were times while I was reading that I had trouble keeping them all straight.  Another strength of the novel is Mountford’s portrait of Bolivia itself.  He weaves it beautifully into Gabriel’s story, and gives the country a wonderful character and strength.

This story is of course all about power and money in modern high level capitalism, and what they do to the hearts and souls of the individuals caught in its web.  But Mountford resists making it easy for his characters or for us.  Choices are not simple, causes and effects are complex, and yes, morality is often the primary casualty.  But we do end up feeling deeply for Gabriel and understanding his choices, even if we find them difficult to accept.  In that way, Peter Mountford has created a truly sympathetic character in a real life story, it’s one we recognize, understand, and must wonder how much of ourselves we see in it.

I really enjoyed having the opportunity to discover and read this book and talk to Peter Mountford while he was in the midst of his book launch tour.  He’s an energetic talker about his work, which made our conversation great fun.  I think you will enjoy our talk, and hopefully the book as well.  I’m looking forward to his next book too – this is a writer we will want to hear more from. He’s a real find for anyone who likes to read new voices in modern fiction.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Hugh McGuire

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Hugh McGuire is a serial digital entrepreneur.  There’s a great story about him and an online interview at NextMontreal, in which the focus of the conversation is a company he started a few years ago called Book Oven, aiming to build an online book publishing platform.  That particular venture did not meet expectations, but it’s a great story for anyone interested in digital publishing and start-up businesses in publishing (and resulted in a very cool tool called PressBooks, that “lets you and your team easily author and output books in multiple formats including: epub, Kindle, print-on-demand-ready PDF, HTML, and inDesign-ready XML.”)

Hugh is also the founder of the outstanding free audio book LibriVox, which currently features perhaps the largest catalog of audio books drawn from the public domain. It’s a great service and operates on open source principles.  In addition to LibriVox, Hugh has also started and now runs a for-profit audio book business called Iambik, which shares many principles with LibriVox except in its profit goals, which of course drives a different business model.

What prompted me to contact Hugh now is the recent and terrific guest piece he wrote called What are Libraries For? for the outstanding blog In the Library with the Leadpipe (subtitled: The murder victim? Your library assumptions. Suspects? It could have been any of us.)  This piece has so much great stuff in it (and is so well written and clear), that it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the future of publishing, books and readers (and In the Library is a great discovery too).

You may not agree with all of Hugh’s assumptions, nor his conclusions (I mostly do), but what he says will make you think hard about the digital future and what it will mean to libraries and every other institution in the book to reader supply chain.  I’d be happy to hear from Writerscast listeners what you think of Hugh’s article after you read it.  Comments are open.

Here’s the first graph of Hugh’s essay:  “Ebooks will become the dominant form of casual reading for adults at some point in the future1. When this happens, community and public libraries will face a major existential crisis, because a fundamental (perhaps the fundamental) function of community libraries—lending print books—will no longer be a fundamental demand from the community. Libraries that do not adjust will find their services increasingly irrelevant to the populations they serve.”