Plus Ca Change, Plus C’est La Meme Chose

Shorter post for today:

It wasn’t until recently that I became aware that the prestigious  Stanford Professional Publishing Course was no longer in existence (http://publishingcourses.stanford.edu/). They shut down their version of the program and it is now being offered  by Yale University (http://publishing-course.yale.edu/). The publishing professional course is an expensive, but much sought after series of courses that many publishing professionals seek out in order to advance their careers.

Back in 2002, when I realized that this consulting gig was something I loved and not ready to willingly give up, I applied to take the course  because I wanted to round out my knowledge and skill set. But at the last moment, I pulled my application. A new piece of business came in and the opportunity to take a week off and play at being a student was not in the cards. Now that the course is offered at Yale, I hope to head back to my native New England and take it in the not too distant future.

Over the years the amount of junk in my paper filing cabinets has shrunk and migrated to a much smaller series of three-ring binders. But the stuff stored on several hard drives has grown exponentially. I’ve spent much of my professional career self-employed, so the filing and sorting methods I use for documents is ad hoc and changes according to need. So it was with some surprise that while searching through some old correspondence files, I came across my 2002 application to attend the Stanford course.

One of the things the application requested was that we come up with a few questions that we would want to discuss with other professionals at the course. What strikes me is how similar the questions I had in 2002 are to the questions I might ask if  I had attended Yale’s course this past month:

1) Is there any general consensus of opinion in the publishing industry with regards to the heavy consolidation that occurred during the last decade? I have an excellent idea of what it did to the newsstand business but what impact has it had on editorial and artistic creativity? Editorial independence? Advertising promotion?

2) We always seem to be about “three” years away from the decline and fall of the paper media. Is there any solid evidence or serious discussion about how the print and digital media will co-exist in the coming years?

3) Considering the consolidations that have occurred in our industry in the past decade (and continue into the present), what is the future of the small press in the next decade?

Read any article in Folio, Audience Development or Ad Age and we see endless discussions about media consolidation, editorial and artistic creativity. The answer to the question seems to depend on who’s doing the answering.

In question two, well, we’re no longer three years away from the emergence of digital media. It’s right here right now and demanding our full attention. There are pundits and professionals out there pontificating that we’re already dead, buried and not in the least lamented. There are an equal number of folks who are shouting, “Not so fast.”

I’m not so sure what to think about this. Our current situation in publishing seems like so much of our modern society. We, the people, are running hard and fast to keep up with the technology and the corporations who push the technology. That doesn’t mean it’s bad or good. It just is what it is. In today’s 24 hour  (Maybe now it’s down to 12 hour) news cycles, there is no time to pause and ask, “Should we go down this path?” We just do. I don’t believe, I know, that we can have both a digital and paper future. I just don’t know if the events that get pushed at us will allow that to happen.

And what is the future of the small press? The answer to that question is murky. I don’t like to say it, but “It depends.”  I have some small publishers I work with who are doing pretty well – all things considered. There’s no reason to think that will change. Unless someone changes the ground that is under them. And that happens a lot! At what point will some of them say, “That’s it! Time to go sell insurance!”?

I don’t know, it was a question I was asking myself back in 2002.

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