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BEA 2009: The future versus the present

May 28, 2009 |  1:43 pm


If this were a competition between a vision for the future of publishing and the power of the present, the present won, no contest.

Starting at 2:30 p.m., two visionaries shared their ideas of a new kind of publishing company, a publishing company for the future. No more gatekeeping, said Richard Nash and Dedi Felman. Instead, they see an open community of writers and readers. A fascinating set of possible practices were put together in an intriguing way by two smart industry veterans. But at 2:55 p.m., as the presentation moved toward its midway, pre-Q&A point, the room steadily began to empty out.

In the ballroom next door, starting at 3 p.m., Tina Brown hosted a panel of the heads of the major publishing houses. The heavyweights: Brian Murray, president and chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide; Carolyn Reidy, president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster Inc.; John Sargent, president and chief executive, Macmillan; and David Steinberger, president and chief executive, Perseus Books Group. The room was three times as big. And there wasn't a free seat in the house.

It is tempting at an enormous, industry-wide conference like BEA to try to read the tea leaves in the detritus of its stale meeting rooms. And if I were to give into temptation, I would say that those who picked up and left the talk about a vision for the future — to hear the powerful lament the troubles of the present — made the wrong choice.

The answers to publishing's biggest questions may not be here at all. But if they are, I wager they're more likely to be found with the risk-takers and the hopeful thinkers — at least, that's who I want to hear from.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Carolyn Kellogg