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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who Is Book Publishing’s Mascot?

When you think of milk, you think cow.  Go to the ballpark and you order a what? A hot dog.  Come to a casino and you envision a slot machine jackpot.  Companies and teams have their logos, countries have their flag colors, and famous people have their catchphrases. There are lots of strong brands out there. It seems every industry or product has a face , a corresponding visual, a soul mate.  But what now represents the writer or book publisher?  Is it a typewriter or a pen?  A keyboard?  A book?

The typewriter is a relic.  The pen is second to a gadget for communicating info but the image of a smartphone or ipad or laptop doesn’t immediately conjure up writer.  You may think information, communication or technology, but not necessarily writer.  The book (a paper one), only represents half of the sales of new books, or maybe two-thirds, and that number decreases with each e-book sale.  How do you symbolize an e-book?

Maybe more important than finding a picture to represent writers and publishers is the need to find a spokesperson to pitch and best represent the industry.  Can you think of someone who is the posterboy for publishing?

The New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Publisher’s Lunch, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, best-selling authors, leading bookblogs, C-Span, and other media and retail outlets all contribute to creating some kind of image of the world of writing but none of them stand out as the clear leader, as the one that completely speaks for authors, publishers, literary agents, editors, distributors, cover designers, illustrators, photographers and all those involved in the craft of books.  Perhaps the reason is that there is no one company or individual who can truly represent all of these interests, ideals, and needs.  I guess this is why we have so many different Web sites, associations, awards, and companies involved in publishing – because there are so many specialty areas, each deserving of a lobbying voice.

Still, I wonder if we struggle to find the mascot of book publishing because we simply no longer have a handle on defining the industry and all of its components.  Book publishing has changed more in the past five years than in the prior 50. And it’s still changing.

The New York Times recently reported a new venture, www.bookish.com, will launch late this summer.  It will cover literary things – reviews, news about authors, book experts, etc.  It will sell books too.  Three major publishers are behind it – Simon and Schuster, Penguin Group USA, and Hachette Book Group.  It remains to be seen if a site like this can become the leading face of book publishing.

I don’t see the discussion of promoting literacy as much as I used to.  For some reason society assumed everyone has a computer and this is reading and writing, but the truth is we have millions of illiterate and functionally illiterate adults in the United States.  Maybe part of whatever image book publishing wants to create for itself should go back to its roots of championing literacy, free speech, and the idea that a book can transport us to places we never imagined. I love books and hope the next generation embraces them too.

Distinctions blur these days: Who is a publisher and who is a writer? Who is a book-seller and who is a book publisher? What is a book and what is a white paper? We also have a dual image arising:  that of the writer-reader.  With over one million new books published last year – and millions of blog postings every day – we have the same people engaging in both writing and reading.  So perhaps the commercial script to promote the publishing industry has to take all of these factors into consideration. Publishing is changing, in part, because of the active role a consumer now plays in the production of what is being bought.

Whatever or whomever comes to represent publishing, if such a thing or person exists, may it highlight our mutual love for the written word and to not only praise the convergence of bits and bytes into bucks and books. May we also pay homage to the valuable role books serve in creating a society of thinkers and doers.

So, before you go write a book, buy one and support the industry of book publishing.

        *** Brian Feinblum can be reached at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

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