Tina Brown Conducts Premortem Investigation of Publishers at BookExpo

Martin Heidegger wrote that “language speaks” (Die Sprache spricht), and that phrase ought to have meant that this blog should have been producing entries while I was attending to other things.  While my appropriation of Heidegger for a lesson about blogs was wrong, Vicki Hearne is right in one of her poems that “time spreads from / The momentary hesitations.” The hesitation in question turned into a few months.

personal photography New York City

Book Expo 2009 - New York City - personal photo

During those months I did attend BookExpo America 2009, and it proved to be prospectively funereal, as if the gathering was a performance of the reverse of Maurice Blanchot’s The Book to Come (Le livre à venir – 1959).

Tina Brown attempted to persuade some major publishers that they will be undone by technology.  Brown used the example of her move to The Daily Beast, a web venture that she indicated altered the way she thinks about journalism and about time, because electronic publishing runs at a different pace from print journalism, one of several pertinent phenomenological differences.  The publishers would not engage directly with Brown’s analogy that book publishing faces a similar set of dire circumstances that have impacted newspapers.  Several times she attempted to solicit commentary on the analogy, and each time panel members either ignored her or talked in nonchalant tones about tangential issues, such as how they had already positioned their companies to “monetize” new technological opportunities via agreements with Amazon over content for the Kindle.  Brown wanted the panelists to engage in commentary about a vision of a world without

Tina Brown (right) - Creative Commons photo from Flickr

Tina Brown (right) - Creative Commons photo from Flickr

books on paper, a vision of a world that might not include an event like BookExpo. Eventually, Brown could not speak at a level to be heard (she arrived with what seemed to be the beginning of laryngitis), and some in the audience must have interpreted her diminishing voice as metaphorical.  About half way through the session, Brown’s husband, Sir Harold Evans, took over the moderating duties for her.

BookExpo America itself, by numerous accounts, revealed the vulnerabilities of publishers. Some did not show up for the event; others, like Macmillan, retreated to cheaper, smaller spaces off the main exhibition floor, and almost all of the publishers had reduced their offerings of advanced copies of new and forthcoming books.  Attendance was down significantly.  The future of books will likely not include some of the companies that served as the engine for this year’s BookExpo, the conference that might be one of the last places for the public to witness CEOs in denial about their current capacities to avoid the same fate as newspapers, and in different ways, libraries.

What will happen when the CEOs of major publishing houses consider books as an accident of the proliferation of paper, when the energy of their thinking turns away from “monetization” and bottom lines, and turns toward books in a richer (non-lucre-centric) context, à laFriedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks 1800/1900?

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