On the Way into the New Millennium and Beyond: A Retrospective, Prospective and Valedictory

December 17, 2013

(BLOG POST)

Eugene G. SchwartzBy Eugene G. Schwartz

[Originally published at Book Business.com. Used with permission.]

After what will be sixty adventurous and memorable years come this January as a fly on the wall in the printing and publishing industries, about which I have also been writing intermittently for over thirty of those years, I am retiring my shingle as a regular columnist at the end of the year. I will remain a Book Business contributor in some form or other yet to be determined.

It is a curious moment in our history to do so. The new millennium is on its way with transformations all around us—on the one hand books still look and feel the same and are used by creatures with two hands turning pages—on the other, their digital versions know no bounds in media combinations, and are operated primarily by thumbs and fingers.

Who knows what the future holds? I bet on imagination and language to continue to drive human interest. Those hands and fingers and the thinking behind them will shape the future as they have the past, and the book in some form will be central to preserving and sharing that which we have learned as well as the stories we love to tell.

I would love to be here to see the tale unfold, especially as the real energy will be taking place below the radar in communities of interest and among independent publishing ventures of all kinds, among them black swans waiting to come into view without notice.

Recently I have begun to look back with wonder and gratitude at the great gift I have enjoyed in a lifetime whose horizons seemed limitless from the time I first began to imagine worlds beyond our own. I followed stories of human explorations of inner earth and outer space. It was a natural reach¬—I think I probably shared that wonder in one way or another with every human being who looked up at the star-lit deep of the heavens as a child and wondered who and what was up there.

20000-Leagues-Under-the-Sea-Novel-CoverAs I write this reflection I am reminded of reading as a young boy Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, and later the 1939 translation of Hungarian Novelist Zsolt Harsanyi’s story of Galileo’s life, The Star Gazer. Hitler was beginning his March across Europe. Japan had already invaded China and was pushing its limits. Prospects across the globe seemed bleak, but these books and others inspired and told me that despite adversity there were promise and unlimited possibilities ahead.

After volunteering for 6 months of occupation, when Japan surrendered in August of 1945, I returned to complete a civil engineering degree at the City College of New York and graduate work at New York University. In those years, opportunities abounded and I slipped into the business of bringing words to life through print. I left thoughts of engineering behind and began selling printing in 1954 for Carnegie Press, a small letterpress shop run by Lou Auerbach and Ozzie Schroeder, in what is now Soho, to design studios and non-profit associations and institutions in Manhattan.

The delight and satisfaction of starting with a blank sheet of paper, say a Curtis deckle-edged text, and an intention to say something that resulted in a printed announcement of some moment, perhaps headlined in Palatino foundry, was value in itself worth all the pavement pounding that led to landing the job.

After Carnegie Press dissolved in 1962, failing to keep up with the rapid adoption of offset lithography, I formed my own production company, leasing space at 719 Broadway (now an NYU dormitory) from Ed Landes at Landes Offset. I first did business as Standard Press and Graphics with Mike Walsh as art director, Tony Bonfiglio as production manager, and Zena Modica running the office; later under my own name, as an agency partnering with Fred W. Schmidt Typographers in the east Forties.

google-book-store-logoThese reflections all flooded into memory recently, while returning home one evening from the new 14,000 square foot Lemon Grove, CA, Library, which traces its origins to a single shelf it was granted in 1906 on the San Diego County traveling library wagon that brought books to East County. Then I learned that night of the landmark judgment handed down by U.S Circuit Judge Denny Chin that the 20,000,000 books copied by Google in the past ten years or so for its Google Books program was a fair use in behalf of providing undreamed of global access to the discovery of books and documents.

No one could have imagined such a feat until the advent of Google itself. When my career in the printing and then in the publishing industries began in 1954, we were still casting type on linotypes and on Ludlow sticks, picking foundry fonts from rows of California job cases and assuring uniform impressions by pasting pieces of paper on the letterpress bed or the cylinder that rolled over the sheets of paper to compensate for the surface irregularities of the type.

My career took me from the print shop to production and manufacturing on the publishing side when I got my first job as production manager with Monarch Press in New York City, a high school and college review book publisher then competing with Cliffs Notes. When I learned that the then legendary Sidney Jacobs, Manufacturing Vice President of the newly merged Knopf and Random House, was looking for an assistant, I gave it a shot. I enjoyed five months of discovery that there were some heights not meant for me to scale. As Director of Production my central task was to manage the recently merged 72 person production department while the company was moving from Madison to Third Avenue. I retired, worn but wiser, and for the next year and a half worked civilized hours as an engineering designer for a construction contractor.

In those years, books were made in dozens of manufacturing plants around the country, most of which are now gone, such as H.Wolff, American Book Stratford Press, Kingsport Press, Von Hoffman, Donnelley, Riverside, Colonial and Haddon Craftsmen. Publishers usually purchased their paper and cover materials directly, and we maintained inventory in the huge printers’ storage areas that received skids and rolls of paper from mills in the South, Northeast and Canada.

Sydney Jacobs was of the generation of “gentleman publishers,” always meticulously groomed, who received his mail and memos for signing in a leather portfolio, and always took lunch at a fashionable midtown restaurant. At that same time RCA, which had acquired Random House several years earlier, determined to bring technology and financial management to publishing, and we were all witness to trial heats on the Linotron phototypesetter at its New Jersey plant. The years that followed saw a wave of acquisitions and mergers with paper, technology and media companies acquiring publishers with hoped for synergies in mind—little of which materialized.

Rejuvenated and ready to start afresh after my engineering diversion, I headed for Del Mar, California in 1969, and joined as production manager, CRM Books, the book division of Psychology Today magazine, which pioneered the four color coffee table textbook. I reported to the gifted and hard driving JoAnn Gilberg who was Manufacturing Vice President, and who had reported to me during my brief Random House tenure. Those were the microfilm image storage years when Bell & Howell, Kodak and 3M loomed large as vendors. Time-Life and National Geographic were pioneering electronic methods for page make up and image storage and retrieval, borrowing from the newspaper industry which was always a step ahead on typesetting technology.

When CRM Books/Psychology Today was sold to Boise-Cascade, I went to Goodyear Publishing, Prentice Hall in Pacific Palisades as Production and Operations Vice President. The job included responsibility for our fulfillment operation at the Prentice Hall warehouse in Salt Lake City, managed by John Zotz one of the great college textbook systems managers of that day. In due course Goodyear was sold to Scott Foresman; meantime I returned to Del Mar to build an itinerant career as a publishing consultant and columnist.

Al Goodyear had taught me a lot about patience, and Bob Hollander, one of the best in the business, who worked with me as production manager, about not getting lost in detail. Together, Bob and I in the early 1970s were among the pioneer practitioners of production management outsourcing for major works, reducing the company’s fixed overhead and increasing its ability to go to market with a number of complex books at the same time with a small in-house staff.

IBPA memberDuring the years that followed I became attached to the rise of independent publishing and the growth of what is now the Independent Book Publishers Association, founded in 1981, and then known as the Publishers Association of Southern California (PASCAL), with the late and much beloved Jan Nathan as executive director. She built the organization on a firm foundation that has lasted to this day. Dick Bye, former Publishers Weekly publisher, was PASCAL’s first president.

The rapid rise of independent publishing helped fuel the growth of independent Book Manufacturers such as Edwards Brothers, Malloy, Sheridan, Braun Brumfield, Cushing-Malloy, McNaughton and Gunn, Thompson-Shore (the “Michigan Mafia”), Rose and Gilliland; and at the turn of the century, the new breed of toner-based print on demand manufacturers such as Lightning Source, Color Centric, Book Surge (now Create-Space), De Hart and Infinity.

sourcebooksThose were the early years of independent publishing that gave birth to such houses as Ten Speed, Nolo, Avery and Sourcebooks, and distributors such as Independent Publishers Group, Publishers Group West, Consortium and National Book Network.

A young Elliott Derman, whose family founded Graphic Typesetting Services (GTS) in Glendale, CA, traveled up and down the coast with an Apple II, demonstrating to the new breed of publisher how to use computers for word processing and business management.

Some thirty years later, the composition and pre-press industry as we knew it had all but disappeared.

It was in the late 1990s that I became connected with the founding of ForeWord Reviews as an independent reviewing magazine, met Mark Hertzog and watched the development of Book Business Magazine from its early focus on print production. Victoria Sutherland, publisher of ForeWord, and Noelle Skodzinski, at the time the new Book Business Magazine editor, had since generously provided me with a platform and a passport to the industry. North American Publishing Company, publisher also of Publishing Executive and Printing Impressions, continues to serve the operating executives, authors and product developers of the industry at all levels as their leading voice in the business of publishing.

It was also before the new millennium that the Book Industry Study Group awoke from its deep sleep to take on the challenges of metadata standards, distribution standards, ISBN introduction, and the growth as well as threats of technology to the industry’s business models. A string of far-sighted chairs starting with Joe Gonella of Barnes and Noble through Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks, and executive directors starting with Jeff Abraham through Michael Healy, Scott Lubeck and now Len Vlahos, have built BISG into a major voice in the industry. Behind the scenes, keeping it all together was Angela Bole, who this year moved into the stewardship of the IBPA as its Executive Director.

Not to overlook dipping my toe in the new millennium and its temptations, I joined with Otto Barz, my old colleague from Random House days, and in 2008 we launched Worthy Shorts/Custom Worthy Editions, an on-line print and e-Book demand publication service for professionals and associations. We are still at it, with a team including Karen Strauss, marketing services, Louie Neiheisel, art direction, Liza Chan, webmaster, Steve Palakas, e-commerce and Tom Rupolo, content and metadata distribution.

While at the new Lemon Grove library, mentioned earlier, with its 1894 school bell in the belfry, a joint venture with the Lemon Grove school district, I attended the inaugural launch of Max and the Lowrider Car, the first of an illustrated chapter book series from the newly formed Dayton Publishing in Solana Beach, CA, whose head of house, Linnea Dayton, is at the peak of a lifetime career as an editor of complex illustrated books. Energized by this new challenge, she is one of the many talented editorial, production, design and publishing professionals whose careers flourished with the birth of Psychology Today in 1967 in Del Mar, and the later arrival in 1981 of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in San Diego, and who remain active today. Another is Jackie Estrada, now administrator of the Will Eisner Foundation, one of the Founders of San Diego ComicCon and, together of her husband, cartoonist Batton Lash, are publishers of the Supernatural Law comic books and graphic novels.

So, all is well in most of our communities as I see it. Our future is assured—one way or another—as long as imagination and aspiration live on. Our irrepressible human need to share knowledge, advocate for ideas, to tell stories and to write lyrics will spawn opportunities for new authors, poets, publishers, booksellers and libraries as long as there is a tomorrow.

Look for me. I may be there!

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