August 11, 2022

E-Book Revolution Upends a Publishing Course

With the e-book revolution upending the publishing business, Madeline McIntosh, the president of sales, operations and digital for Random House, stood at the lectern on the opening day in June, projecting a slide depicting the industry as a roller coaster, its occupants frozen in motion at the top of a steep loop.

“You might be wondering if this is the moment where we’re at,” Ms. McIntosh, a tall figure in a slim navy dress, said with a smile, as dozens of students with plastic name tags hanging around their necks watched raptly.

So the summer session began with a focus on “The Digital Future.” Students were schooled in “Reinventing the Reading Experience: From Print to Digital” by Nicholas Callaway, the chairman of a company that produces book apps for children. Managers from Penguin Group USA explained how to master “e-marketing,” and a panel of digital experts talked about short-form electronic publishing — not quite a magazine article, not quite a book — which is so new, the genre doesn’t really have a name.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Carolyn Pittis, the senior vice president of global author services at HarperCollins, told a packed room of students several days into the course. “So it’s very exciting for those of us who spent many years when a lot of things didn’t happen.”

As the students scribbled in notebooks and clicked on laptops, Ms. Pittis recounted some of the biggest developments in the industry so far in 2011. The proliferation of e-readers and the growing digital market share of Barnes Noble. Amanda Hocking, a formerly self-published author, making a book deal with a traditional publisher. J. K. Rowling’s selling her own “Harry Potter” e-books online. Even the surprise success of “Go the — to Sleep,” a hilariously vulgar children’s book parody that rose to the top of best-seller lists after being widely pirated via e-mail for months.

In the past year, e-books have skyrocketed in popularity, especially in genre fiction like romance and thrillers. For some new releases, the first week has brought more sales of electronic copies than of print copies.

All of which were ripe topics for discussion for students in the course this year, even as they deciphered messages that could be simultaneously weary and optimistic.

“A lot of what we hear is, ‘Is the Internet going to eat book publishing?’ ” said Selby McRae, a petite 22-year-old from Jackson, Miss., who entered the course after graduating from Hamilton College and completing an internship at the University Press of Mississippi. “And then they say, ‘But everything’s better than ever!’ ”

After appearing on a panel with other literary agents, Douglas Stewart of Sterling Lord Literistic said he had simply tried to explain the unfamiliar aspects of his job. “It is a really scary time to go into the business, and I’m sure they’re hearing that,” he said. “We’re all thinking that as we look out at the sea of eager faces — I wonder if they should be doing this right now?”

The course, which begins every year in June, bills itself as the “shortest graduate school in the country,” where students can learn in six weeks what it would take them a year to learn in the real world. (The second half of the course is devoted to magazine publishing.)

Legions of high-placed publishing executives have been through the course, like Morgan Entrekin (Radcliffe Publishing Course ’77), the publisher and president of Grove/Atlantic; Arthur Levine (R.P.C. ’84), who has his own children’s imprint at Scholastic; and Molly Stern (R.P.C. ’94), the senior vice president and publisher of Crown Publishers and Broadway Books.

This year’s 101 students were chosen from more than 475 applicants, the highest number in years, showing that they were not deterred by the $6,990 fee for tuition and room and board on the Columbia campus — or by the limitations of entry-level positions that pay around $30,000 a year .

The chosen candidates tend to emerge from college with impressive résumés: some have journalism degrees, successful climbs of Mount Kilimanjaro or stints working in independent bookstores or for literary magazines.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d0aeda8d294015e499ccf75436084a09

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