New PW Column: In re Books

My latest column for Publishers Weekly is live at PWxyz. This one is a belated and selective recap of In re Books. A taste:

The sociologist John Thompson (at 4:05) gave a particularly thrilling presentation. Thompson is the author of Merchants of Culture, a detailed study of how contemporary trade publishing works (and sometimes doesn’t work) based on interviews with dozens of insiders. His talk was a relentless analysis of the economic logic of the industry, particularly the growth of bottom-line-driven “extreme publishing” and the painful financial squeeze in which publishing houses find themselves. If you are seriously interested in the publishing industry and its future, watch his talk. There is no better use of a half hour of your time.

At times, the room seemed to be divided between publishing insiders and outsiders, each rolling their eyes at the others’ ignorance. Thompson broke through the cultural disconnect, bringing a scholar’s rigor to the rich tacit knowledge of publishing professionals. These moments of mutual understanding are hard-won, but essential.

Other bloggers in the audience have written up outstanding summaries of the conference as they experienced it. Michael Shatzkin and Caleb Crain’s reactions are perceptive and thoughtful, exactly the kind of conversation we were hoping to spark.

If you missed the fun, or want to relive it, streaming versions of the conference panels are now available on the conference website, and we hope to have downloadable versions available soon. (New York Law School was closed due to Hurricane Sandy the week after the conference, and since then, the IT staff has been working extra-hard. Getting the conference videos edited took a backseat to relaunching the IT infrastructure and supporting dozens of makeup classes.)