Most Christians believe the Bible is the word of God. I believe that PW is the Word from the gods of publishing journalism. I have believed this for many years and through many cosmetic and even substantive changes to the magazine.
Why do I believe it? Listen to this: “Whether it’s figures from the Association of American Publishers or financial reports from individual companies, it is becoming clear that in the early years of the digital transition publishers are finding ways to improve earnings and margins despite slight declines in total revenue as the increase in digital sales is not enough to offset print sales declines.”
This introduction to an article by Jim Milliot, “The Evidence Mounts” (March 5, 2012), sets the stage for a whole host of pertinent information. Milliot, who is co-editorial director of PW and lives in the highest pantheon of my PW gods, writes, for example:
The hardest hit print segment last year was mass market paperback, with sales falling 35.9%, to $431.5 million, at the seven houses (including all the major mass market publishers) that reported results. The drop in mass market paperback sales compared to the rise in e-book sales has been stunning. Between 2010 and 2011, the segment went from having about $220 million more in sales than e-books, to having e-book sales more than double mass market sales in 2011 at the publishers that report to AAP.
How can anyone in mass market publishing read that sentence and not know that they must convert every book to an e-book format immediately? And how can the rest of us in trade publishing read the rest of the article and not be informed and encouraged? Jim does this week after week. His grasp of the numbers about our industry and of what is evident from those numbers is so clear that I can hardly wait to see what he will come up with next.
Getting News of People I Know
When the next issue of PW arrived (March 12, 2012) and I turned to page 11, there, in the bottom right corner of the page, was one of those In Memoriam boxes for Earnest E. “Ernie” Owen. Briefly my eyes misted. I had to hold back my tears because I was in the midst of a hectic work day with people coming and going out of my office. But I did take a deep breath and for a few brief moments I remembered.
When I was a young theological bookstore manager back in 1974, Ernie was one of the very first sales reps to call on me. He took me under his wing over the next couple of years and graciously introduced me to many of the mysterious dynamics of religious publishing and retailing. As my career shifted into editorial work at Harper & Row, San Francisco, he continued to keep in touch and make sure I brought him up to date on my adventures.
At every book convention or conference he always stopped to talk with me as if I were the most important editor he had seen that day. We were “competitors” during those years, both of us looking out for new authors to sign up, but that didn’t matter one whit to Ernie. It was the person in front of him who counted. His graciousness and loving spirit will always be with me. And because I am not in religious publishing in a formal way any more, I might not have heard the news of his death without PW. Again, PW proves to be my companion on the Way. (This was the word that described early Christians in the first century; they were the people of the Way).
Then I turned to another page and I found a note (of only 50 words) that a friend of mine had bought another publishing company to extend the reach of his growing group. Since he is a lawyer as well as an owner/publisher, he keeps those deals close to his vest until they can be publicly noted in places like PW. So now, when we both arrive at an upcoming party for a mutual friend, I will be up to date on what he has been doing. Sing praises to our gods; PW knows all.
Keeping Up with Changes
So how are you keeping current on the digital revolution? Are you reading blogs and commentaries, and checking news summaries in multiple places? What if I said you could also keep abreast of most of the shifts, changes, and issues in the digital revolution by reading just one magazine, which you could get at a discount because you’re a member of IBPA? Again PW comes to our rescue, and Jim Milliot again sets the tone and keeps the bar high on interpreting data.
Are you interested in various perspectives from a quirky gathering of professional and thoughtful writers? Then read PW’s weekly Soapbox column, which I do religiously, and you will be forever surprised by the diverse and unique opinions expressed: Cathy Clamp’s recent Soapbox column, “Rural Longings” (March 5, 2012), is a perfect example. She and 48 million rural residents have no cable, no Wi-Fi, and no reliable broadband networks with which to download e-books.
Eventually my weekly ritual of reading PW always leads me to the bestseller lists. I don’t browse these lists to know about any specific book. I never have, really. But I do track the lists in my brain so I can see shifts in the kinds of books they feature.
A few years ago those lists started becoming dominated by genre authors (romance, mystery/thriller, science fiction), and that was a significant shift. It reflected more of the publishing realities, because those books had always sold many copies but the industry had not always treated them as “legitimate” bestsellers. Now they were getting their just due.
Also, this shift told me that narrative arc and story are what people want in what they read. Does that mean that our new nonfiction on education or the environment or social media or parenting needs to be written in a narrative style? Probably.
Also probably, there are other ways to learn what shifts are happening in the culture around reading, but I think PW offers the easiest and most enjoyable way to obtain that knowledge and more. It can’t show us which specific titles to publish, but the broad strokes of information in the news, the numbers, and the features within its pages can profitably guide us in terms of overall mission and publishing programs.
Roy M Carlisle, the acquisitions director at The Independent Institute, is a member of the IBPA board of directors.