The Golden Age of Publishing – BookExpo 2011

DylanIn 1965, at the Newport Folk Festival, Bob Dylan stunned the crowd of folk music lovers, by “going electric” – playing a few songs with a full plugged-in band. He ended the set with a harsh statement via the song “It’s all over now, baby blue.” The final verse:

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

This is the story I am thinking about as I attended BookExpo this week in New York City – a huge trade show for book publishing insiders.

What Dylan did – and thousands of others could not – is take action. To not reflect on how the world was changing, but to be a catalyst for that change; to willingly shed his own skin, and evolve. Dylan was never the same after that, and it was his CHOICE. This is something I think we can all use reminding of – that the world is not happening TO us, we have the CHOICE to take the reigns and make change happen.

And this is what I am seeing in many small ways at BookExpo this week. I met with many authors who are exploring DIY publishing. Walking into the massive Javits center hall at BookExpo proper, the first booth you see is Amazon, whose recent announcements have stirred the publishing world faster than ever.

The message is loud and clear: the time for mere reflection is over. We need DOERS. And if we aren’t willing to be that person, then it is clear that someone will step in and take our place.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not “old school publishing” vs “digital publishing” or a big publishing house vs Amazon. This was a room filled with thousands of people who LOVE books, who love writers, who love stories, and who love ideas.

Dan Blank Is the event perfect? Nope. And that’s what I love about it. It is many things to many people – not one unified kumbaya whole. I think that makes a vibrant, thriving, and VITAL community, business, and industry. And I think there is room for everyone, at least in the fact that there is OPPORTUNITY for everyone. Sure, not all will find success, but all have the CHANCE to carve out a reasonable corner of this industry. Those who will do the best will likely focus less on the form, and more on the need. On providing for creators and consumers – and the ever growing blurry gray area between them. That many readers are writers. That many writers are readers. And that is where the opportunity lies. In the self-propagating momentum that creates fractals of creativity, ideas, sharing, and creation.

Going back to the Dylan reference above, I see a lot of new matches being lit.

Not everyone needs to be an innovator, as long as we are all in an ecosystem where innovation is possible.

We will push and pull each other along. At times helping, at times needling. This is not an us vs them game. We all love what books represent – the work, the stories, the information, the access, the community, the creativity, and the people who make that happen. And we all want a sustainable future, one where there is firm financial footing that rewards those who do the work.

This 93-year-old publishing attorney and author has been going to book fairs for 60 years. As we analyze the many details of this week’s events, we have to look ahead to the world we are creating 60 years from now. In 2071 will seem extraordinary that any of us will still be active in publishing, and would have attended BEA this week.

Nick Hughes wrote a wonderful post that looks at the phases of innovation – from interruption, to the frenzy of financial bubbles around a new idea, to the crash, and then to the golden age where new ideas mature and become stable foundations of a new market. Highly recommended, especially when considering the future of publishing.

When is the golden age? When there is a vibrant ecosystem of people dreaming, working, and creating. The golden age is now. Enjoy it.

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