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The Tool Chest: The Book Business in Flux – A Wide-Angle View

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It’s hard for me to believe that my time on the IBPA board is over, but my second two-year term ended on July 31. As I reflect on the changes that have taken place at IBPA and in publishing over the past four years . . . interesting times, indeed!

When I was encouraged to join the board, I was “warned” that it would be an incredibly fulfilling experience, both in terms of the work to be done, and in terms of the people, and I’ve never had reason to disagree.

While new members join the board every year and others depart, the talent, skill, wisdom, experience, and dedication of the board’s membership continually delighted and amazed me. I’d say every new “class” has been more impressive than the last, but that would imply that predecessors were somehow lacking, which is most emphatically not the case. It’s simply that each member brings refreshing, unique qualities and experiences to the boardroom table (and the postmeeting dinner table).


Back Then

In summer 2008, when I joined the board, IBPA’s focus seemed quite traditional. Still, change was stirring, if not roiling, just beneath the surface.

The first-generation Kindle had been around for fewer than nine months, and the iPad was still nearly two years off. Amazon’s “wholesale model” paid us print-book-sized sums for e-books, though we all knew that eventually something would have to give. Yet, nine months into this new era, it was clear we had to invest in e-book conversions.

IBPA was already in flux. We’d recently lost our guiding light, Jan Nathan. We adopted a new name to better reflect the association’s scope. Then the financial crisis hit, forcing a sharp reassessment of the organization’s priorities. Membership ranks shrank because of belt-tightening and continued migration to the new self-publishing model.


Big Changes

The soundtrack for the past four years could have been Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” a rapid, breathless string of names and catchphrases.

Holy Kindle, Kobo, NOOK

Borders gone

and Google Book


Agency mode

Split the pie

How can we parse e-formats

There’s a new one out

It seems with every new month

What can we do with Facebook

Will our authors blog

Would buyers read an e-blast

(What say we leave the rest to a wit greater than mine?)

We’ve had the turmoil over Google’s wholesale book scanning, and the challenges of digital rights management (pro and con), along with new distribution opportunities and evaporating newspaper review sections. The continued rise of social media moved the focus of prepub publicity from a handful of influential buyers and reviewers to direct engagement with readers and the Internet’s key influencers.

With e-books, we moved from “This may be big someday” to “How can we catch up?” We raced to make every backlist title available for print-on-demand, short-run digital editions, and e-reading devices.

As new self-publishing options multiplied, we came to see that book-publishing services aren’t “vanity publishing” as we once knew it. A final print book in hand ceased to be the only proof of a new publisher’s serious intent, and digital printing technology became too widely used to be a basis for rejection by reviewers or potential trading partners.

Now that books are discovered in so many ways, and very often by electronic means, the question “How many review copies should I mail?” has vanished—along with review media, librarians, and booksellers who insisted on hardcopies of books and catalogs. There are far fewer influential gatekeepers, and far more key influencers.

So many barriers to entry lie crumpled alongside the road that publishing has been stripped to the essence of the word: to make public. But that definition underlines what hasn’t changed. It’s still essentially a matter of how well we spread the word about a new (or old) book. And a self-published author still faces a steep hill. But, as Mel Brooks’s 2,000-Year-Old Man might say, “So, vhat’s new?”



What challenges do I see ahead for IBPA? Our traditional marketing programs must continue their evolution, and there’s some exciting stuff ahead on that front.

Membership outreach is another work in progress. There are more author-publishers than ever before, and larger new publishing enterprises abound. They simply enter book publishing through different doors. Initiatives like the Benjamin Franklin Digital Awards will help make the necessary introductions.

As for Publishing University, the success of this spring’s Publishing University West proves the old wisdom of bringing the mountain to the membership.

Amid all this change, is IBPA relevant? Without a doubt. Publishing University presents a fresh, up-to-date, and inspiring program every year. The Independent, which you now hold in your hands, delivers a wealth of timely information and wisdom every month (and now in a four-color glossy format). Publishing University Online, the Benjamin Franklin Digital Awards, and several upcoming initiatives all add up to an organization that’s keeping pace with our times.

Regardless of the pace of change, the fundamentals of publishing don’t change. It’s about putting a book into the minds of as many readers as possible. Authors, publishers, editors, designers, and readers are as passionate as ever about the book. An organization of publishers dedicated to helping fellow publishers succeed is at least as relevant today as ever before.


Dave Marx is publisher at PassPorter Travel Press (pasporter.com) and can be reached at dave@passporter.com.

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