Showing posts with label Greenwood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greenwood. Show all posts

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Publishing Roots and Anecdotes

There was a time in my life when reading professional books and journals was nearly a full time job onto itself, especially when I was starting out in my career.  The books seemed to come first and then the journals, particularly Publishers Weekly and it's UK counterpart, The Bookseller.  Added to the mix were academic and library publications such as The Chronicle of Higher Education, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, and a number of related newsletters.  Weekends and nights were reserved for professional reading.

Now retired, I haven't read a professional book in years, although I try keep my eye on the publishing industry via the Web.  Nonetheless I've been remiss; it was only recently that I came across a book published some four years ago, a very important one to me and, I think, to the history of publishing, Immigrant Publishers: The Impact of Expatriate Publishers in Britain and America in the 20th Century (Transaction Publishers, 2009).  One of the co-editors, Richard Abel, was the founder of Richard Abel and Co., a major bookseller to academic and research libraries during my career.  Perhaps not too coincidentally, the book was published by Transaction Publishers which was headed by the late Irving Louis Horowitz, a sociologist who was a great publisher in his own right, publishing important works that others would have deemed too unprofitable to tackle.  I competed with Horowitz at times for authors but we had a cordial relationship.

Naturally, I was able to access large chunks of the book on Google Books but through one of Amazon's "partners" I was able to buy a new copy, still shrink wrapped for half the price.  Probably this was a review copy that had been sold.  Some things never change.  I wanted the hard cover for my collection of publishing books, particularly as it covers my own publishing roots.

Immigrant Publishers portrays a number of individuals I knew, worked with, and/or competed with.  For me personally, the most influential person was Walter J. Johnson, who was my first employer at the Johnson Reprint Division of Academic Press.  He was my "accidental mentor" and I would like to think that some of his better attributes, his intensely productive and entrepreneurial nature, became part of my working demeanor and without that subliminal tutelage, my career might have been very different. 

Two chapters are devoted to Walter Johnson, one by Edwin Beschler covering Johnson and his brother in law / partner Kurt Jacoby and their flight from Nazi dominated Europe to New York (with various stops between), establishing Academic Press (AP) in 1942. Johnson arrived with his wife, Thekla, after he had spent some time in a concentration camp but won his release. The other chapter is by Albert Henderson covering Johnson Reprint Corporation (JRC), run exclusively by Johnson (as was Walter J. Johnson, Inc., his antiquarian firm) and JRC's trailblazing accomplishments in the world of scholarly reprints.  I vaguely knew Beschler who was an AP editor but I worked closely with Henderson. 

Walter Johnson was an enigma to me when I joined the firm in 1964, straight out of college, winding up in the Production Department of JRC. On the one hand he could be charming, even endearing, but he also managed his businesses through fear and divisiveness, and constantly displayed a high level of distrustfulness.  But it was "justified paranoia" given his path to the United States (along with other publishers covered in the book) to escape (just barely) the encroaching threat of Nazi ideology inspired genocide (a fate of many of the family members of Johnson, nee' Jolowicz, changing his name and his religion "to never again be victimized"). 

Henderson recounts a meeting in the conference room of JRC which perfectly illustrates Johnson's suspicious personality, one that I also attended. It was a meeting called by my immediate boss, Fred Rappaport (another important influence on my career who is still a friend of ours after all these years).  Johnson was out of town but had placed a call to Fred waiting impatiently on the phone while the switchboard operators attempted to locate him.  At first they were unable to find him, until he was finally traced to the conference room. Johnson was incredulous and furious -- "what do you mean having a meeting without me?" -- you could hear Fred desperately trying to defend himself.

I also vividly remember another incident when Johnson stormed into the accounting department which was opposite my production department.  He was again furious, yelling at the accounting manager (whose name I've forgotten).  He picked up a calculator from a nearby desk (bear in mind, a 1960's calculator would weigh in at almost 40 pounds). raised it over his head, and smashed it to the floor, storming out of the department, leaving stunned silence in his wake. 

Yet, I had a different relationship with him.  He could never quite figure me out.  If he needed someone to come in all day Saturday to work on an "emergency" production project, normally no one would volunteer, something he pretty much expected (I think some of those projects were "tests", simply to demonstrate his willingness to be in on a Saturday while no one else was).  Well, in each and every case I said OK, I'll come in.  He eyed me suspiciously.  You want to come in to work?  Sure, I said.  (Actually, I needed the overtime -- my first wife was pregnant and about to retire from her lowly paying job -- and as I was on the clock early in my career, overtime was a gift.)

So I would see Walter in the office some Saturdays early in my career, and he began to depend on me to handle the  more difficult reprint projects.  Which leads to one of my favorite Johnson stories.  One such "rush" project (the rush was always to beat Kraus Reprint to the punch), was a large serial set of some public domain title, involving scores of volumes.  We needed to get 50 complete sets out of Arnold's Book Bindery (in Reading PA ASAP) and towards that end (and for other projects as well), I had to go to Arnolds from time to time on a small plane from Newark Airport.  I was also in frequent contact with them via phone from the office (remember, this is thirty years before emails and twenty before faxes).

Well, one of Johnson's favorite "management techniques" was to monitor activities through the two  Doberman Pinschers he had as receptionists/telephone operators. (There was no direct dial long distance -- all such calls had to be placed through the operators.) One morning I had to speak to Arnolds about that rush project and I asked one of the watch dogs to place the call and she said no.  I said, no? What do you mean?  And she said, Mr. Johnson said no long distance phone calls without his personal approval because our long distance bills were getting too high, goodbye.  I saw red and I grabbed the entire file on the project (everything was on paper of course so these files could be several inches thick), and I levitated (at least it seemed to me) down the stairs (his office was on the 10th floor, mine on the 11th) which meant passing the dogs at the desk (who smilingly glared at me, relishing their brief moment of power) and I approached Johnson's office, which had two doors, one from the hallway which had a red light over it and if the light was lit it meant he was in a meeting (the light was on that day) and could not be disturbed, and the other door from the editorial department (where Al Henderson was sitting).  I went through the editorial department and threw open Johnson's door and indeed he was meeting with some people I didn't know, and as I entered, he started to mutter, slightly outraged,  Bob, what is this?  I slammed the file on his desk and said, you want the books, you call Arnold's Bookbindery!  I walked out to the refrains of Bob, Bob, Bob! following my back out the door.

Of course by the time I returned to my office the thought occurred to me that I better start packing up my personal stuff as probably I'd be losing my job that very day.  Indeed, ten minutes later he called and demanded that I come back to the office, which I did.  But there he was at the switchboard castigating (mostly for my benefit) the Dobermans at the desk, saying over and over again "I didn't mean Bob!"  Although it was a vivid illustration of his divisive management techniques, I also think the incident was a lesson for him that his rough tactics did not intimidate me.  From then on, I never had any difficulty with him and if anything,  he treated me solicitously.

There was no question that Johnson was a brilliant publisher, from a publishing family, and Academic Press and Johnson Reprint, addressed a real need for scientific and academic information, producing new research material and bringing back out of print works to fulfill the insatiable appetite for such information, particularly by libraries who at that time enjoyed very lucrative government funded budgets. 

Although I learned a lot from my "accidental mentor" my relationship with Johnson and his firm was doomed as I had learned everything I could in production, moved on to head up the editorial department, and even though he named me an "Assistant Vice President" in November 1969, I could see the handwriting on the wall when Harcourt Brace Jovanovich entered the picture at the end of that decade.  I was solicited by a start-up competitor, Greenwood Press, headed by Harold Mason, a librarian who had briefly worked for Johnson's antiquarian division.  Johnson offered me raises, promotions, anything to keep me from the competition.  What he could not offer me was any kind of career path into original publishing, which is where I was trying to take some new JRC programs, but Harcourt blocked the way and even Academic Press was moving into the humanities and the social sciences where I was trying to go with their new "Seminar Press" (which Harcourt squashed anyhow).

My soon-to-be new wife, Ann, headed up customer service for JRC and Johnson's knee jerk reaction was to be suspicious of her -- she remaining at JRC while I went to a competitor.  He called her into his office to be interrogated and in the end we both had to assure him of the ethical standards we both adhered to and remarkably he accepted it.  As it turned out, it was only a couple years later that JRC was closed in spite of Bill Jovanovich's reassurances of continuing everything as before.  My decision was the right one and within a few years I was President of Greenwood Press and as I said, I would like to think that the better aspects of Walter's work ethic materialized in my own management techniques. 

At first we had little contact, but later he begrudgingly acknowledged my career progress and we used to chat regularly at Frankfurt, long after he left Academic but remained the largest shareholder of Harcourt which purchased Academic in 1969.  I think Ann and I were among the very few former employees at his funeral service in 1996, his working until he died at the age of 88, on the day of my 54th birthday.

Whereas Johnson had his redeeming virtues, another "publishing expatriate" that I dealt with during my career, Robert Maxwell, seemed to have none.  In fact he very much reminded me of Walter, but without the charm. He too ruled those who let him by fear and intimidation.  I had the unpleasant and totally unscheduled task of "debating" him -- I think it was 1972 or 1973 -- at one of the American Library Association's annual meetings

His company, Pergamon Press and ours were both caught up in heady days of microfiche reproduction of public domain government documents.  We had been filming all the Congressional Hearings to 1969 and we had rolled out a similar program for municipal documents.  Both Pergamon and Greenwood had started to tackle State Documents, so we were head to head competitors although both programs were still in their formative stages.  Each company had produced promotional literature describing its forthcoming program and the American Library Association had asked us to speak about them at one of their government documents sessions.  The editor of our program, however, was also the editor of our municipal project and he discovered, sort of at the last minute, that he had a conflicting speaking engagement about the municipal documents program and as that was much further along (and perhaps he didn't relish the thought of taking on Robert Maxwell who was to speak on behalf of Pergamon), I was thrown to the sharks with only a couple hours notice.  I had written the promotion piece myself so I was familiar with many of the details, but not all.  In any event, there I was, a thirty year old utterly inexperienced public speaker, having to face someone whose public speaking ability was legendary,  a former Member of Parliament with a booming voice, whose reputation preceded him.

The dreaded time finally arrived and I was shocked at the sea of faces attending this meeting, maybe a couple of hundred, a far larger crowd than I imagined.  Perhaps Maxwell was the draw and he was invited to speak first.  OK I said to myself, that will give me time to prepare any rejoinders if I need them.  He stood at the podium and held up the very brochure I wrote (not his own), the cover of which heralded "Solve All Your State Documents Problems -- acquisitions, claims, checking-in, cataloging, binding, shelving, retrieval." He silently held it up (it seemed like hours to me, but it was only for about 15 seconds) waving it back and forth so all could see.  (It was a June meeting, in Detroit as I recall. I had worn a Haspel Wash and Wear suit and I could feel the sweat trickling down my back.  I felt certain that pits of stain were forming under my arms.  Why was he holding up our brochure, not saying anything?)  Suddenly, in his bass English voice he boomed "Huckster!"  I blinked in astonishment (never having been called a huckster before, but thinking it must take one to know one).  He then went on tearing our program apart, saying nearly nothing about their own.  In a way it didn't surprise me, given his reputation and given both programs were "announcements" and in fact did not yet exist.  Easier to criticize ours than say something about their own.  He looked at me sitting in the first row with every thrust of his voice.

After about ten or fifteen minutes of my verbal whipping, it was my turn. I remembered the fear of whether my anxiety-induced sweat would be evident on my way up to the podium.  The crowd was clearly agitated by the tension Maxwell had created, some librarians uncomfortable about a verbal confrontation between the two of us.  Well, they didn't have to worry about me as I knew there was no way I could win that battle.  Maxwell knew it too and the smirk on his face showed his pleasure at having me where he wanted me.  

So instead of saying anything about the attack he levied, or defending our program in any way, or, forbid, attacking his, I basically went about my business of explaining our program, how it would work, the tentative nature of it at that point, and we would be eager to have their input as to the directions we should take.  In other words, I completely ignored Maxwell, as if he had never spoken.  Afterwards, librarians came up to me to thank me for not responding in kind. 

Any future contact between Maxwell and myself was confined to merely passing by one another in the aisles of Frankfurt or some other ALA meetings, one not acknowledging the other.  He died a mysterious death, presumably having fallen off his yacht in the Atlantic, after which it was discovered he had raided his company's pension fund to keep his publishing empire floating.

Another publisher profiled in the book is Fred Praeger whose parents failed to escape Nazi Germany and died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, leaving a profound impact on Fred.  He ultimately formed Praeger Publishers and, with the help of CIA funds, began to publish the very successful "Special Studies" series that was squarely aimed at the threat of the Soviet Union.  One of his early successes was the publication of Milovan Djilas' The New Class which sold 50,000 copies, a work I had read in college and have a copy on my bookshelf ever since. 

In fact, to digress somewhat, many of these "immigrant publishers" shared a kind of Ayn Rand prospective on business and viewed any totalitarian regime with revulsion, particularly the Soviet Union at the time. I remember an amusing anecdote involving Walter Johnson in that regard.  On November 9, 1965 I was waiting for the elevator on the 11th Floor of 111 Fifth Avenue.  It was about 5.20 PM and out the window in front of the elevators, I was gazing north at the top of the Empire State Building as darkness gathered but the city and the Empire State were still ablaze in lights.  Suddenly those lights started to go out until the city was in darkness, the elevators had stopped and all lights in the building were extinguished.  I asked if anyone had a flashlight. No, no one did.  Then, I made my way downstairs in the dark to the 10th Floor.  Surely, I thought,  Mr. Johnson would know where there was a flashlight and perhaps what was going on.  He was frantic, listening to a portable radio and indeed, he had a flashlight and offered to lead everyone down the eleven flights to the street.  I remember going down the stairs with Mr. Johnson, the two of us leading a couple of dozen other employees, Johnson turning to me and moaning over and over again:  The Russians! The Russians!  It's an attack!  They've done this! Set in the context of how these immigrant publishers landed on the shores of the United States, the reaction was quite understandable.

So in light of that, it is utterly plausible for a Fred Praeger to embrace anti Soviet studies while conveniently accepting CIA funding.

My first personal encounter with Fred Praeger -  other than running into him at Frankfurt or some of the scholarly association meetings we both regularly attended -  was a day I spent with him at his Westview Press office in Boulder Co.  It was sometime in the Fall of 1984, not long after Publisher's Weekly had published a long article about me and I think Fred was curious about the competition but basically I think he wanted me to see his operation and pay homage.  Of course I was curious as well.  We competed with one another but had chosen different paths -- he trying to control all aspects of the business, including manufacturing, whereas my philosophical approach to publishing was to focus on bringing authors and markets together, leaving all manufacturing to subcontractors. 

We had a good day together and our relationship remained cordial until the end of 1985 when CBS Publishing put his former business, the eponymous Praeger Publishers, Inc. on the market.  We did preliminary due diligence on the business and so did Fred.  Sealed bids were submitted.  We won the right to complete the due diligence process and to negotiate a final price based on our findings.  During that process I had my regularly scheduled Frankfurt Bookfair rendezvous in October.  I ran into Fred. He was furious with me.  What right did I have to buy a company with his name?  What right!!!????  (The name of course was an inseparable part of the company.)

He stormed off and my contacts with him from then on at meetings were his menacing glares. He was a creative publisher, and I respected him, but he, too, could be a intimidating and difficult person. He sold Westview only a few years later.

There are other individuals mentioned or portrayed in Immigrant Publishers who I knew or dealt with, but not to the extent of the three I talk about here.  They were exiles from their homelands who immigrated to the US or the UK in search of security and entrepreneurial opportunities in publishing.  They were on the cusp of the information age and instinctively they seized that opening for new, thriving scientific, technical and social science publishing businesses.  They indirectly paved the way for what we now know as the Internet age (one wonders what they would have done with today's technology).  But it all harkens back to what constitutes knowledge.  As Charles Kegan Paul (publisher of Kegan Paul & Trench) said towards the end of the 19th century,  "It is by books that mind speaks to mind, by books the world's intelligence grows, books are the tree of knowledge, which has grown into and twined its branches with those of the tree of life, and of the common fruit men eat and become as gods knowing good and evil." 

These "immigrant publishers" gave rise to another generation of publishers -- I was among them -- ones that learned the ropes from these pioneers.  We in turn laid down the groundwork for the ubiquitous use of computers in publishing and anticipated on demand and on line publishing.  As that May 25, 1984 Publisher's Weekly profile concluded its article..."We're working on disseminating online information," says Hagelstein -- derived at first from books, but ultimately, he believes, to be online only....What Greenwood's whole approach seems to be leading to is that so-far elusive development we are always being told is in our future: books on demand.... Perhaps, in its own way and with all deliberate speed, [it] is pointing the way to the future of the book."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road

A while ago I was “tagged” by a fellow blogger to name twenty-five writers who “influenced” my life, and although I began my reply by naming Updike, Roth and Dreiser, Richard Yates could have easily been the first on my list.

He is certainly the only writer where I may have had some small reciprocal impact. Why? Because for almost ten years the only edition of his classic Revolutionary Road in print was the one I republished in 1971. Astonished to find it out of print at the time, we snapped up the rights from Yates’ literary agent, the International Famous Agency. In fact, the Wikipedia entry for the novel incorrectly cites Greenwood Press as the publisher instead of its original publisher, Little, Brown, and Company (1961). No doubt the article’s author was holding the Greenwood hardcover edition.

When our edition was published it was my intention to reread it, but career demands, other literary works, including all of Yates’ later novels and short stories, encroached on my reading time, so on various bookshelves in the homes we’ve lived, this edition nestled in waiting. The catalyst for recently rereading Revolutionary Road was the film of it, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Reportedly, the book was “discovered” as a major American literary work by Kate Winslet and her husband, the film’s director, Sam Mendes. The film seemed faithful to the novel so I finally read the reprint edition to see for myself. In the process I was reminded why I was so taken with Yates’ work in the first place.

Since I am an “old” production guy, I have to describe the edition, republished without a jacket but in a library binding, 88 point binder’s boards, Arrestox "C" weight cloth with gold foil stamping on the spine, 5–1 /2 x 8–1/2 trim size, headbands and footbands, printed on acid free, cream colored high-opacity 50 lb paper. It was probably printed in Ann Arbor, Michigan where we printed the majority of our books. It looked as new as the day it was republished. So, I have come full circle with the book, reading it soon after it was first published, reprinting it when it went out of print, seeing the movie, and now finally rereading my reprint edition of the novel, with more than 40 years intervening.

As I said I thought the movie closely followed the book but after rereading Revolutionary Road, I am struck by its extreme faithfulness. Maybe this is because Yates’ elegantly developed plot moves chronologically and with an inevitability that drives the novel to its conclusion, making it so adaptable to the screen. But mostly, it is Yates’ living dialogue and although I do not have the screenplay to compare, I am certain much of it was wisely lifted from the novel itself.

When I first read the novel I was going through a divorce, having been married at the end of my junior year in college. My ex-wife and I were two kids, not unlike Frank and April in Revolutionary Road. I take literature very personally and the novel spoke directly to me as my own marriage was disintegrating and I was looking for answers.

The relationship of Yates’ men and women can be summed up by the titles of Yates’ two terrific short story collections: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness and Liars in Love. I was struck by these two themes, loneliness and self deception, as depicted in Revolutionary Road, relating those to my own experience, not only in my first marriage but the failed marriage of my parents (although they continued the pretense of a marriage to their deaths). Yates’ characters are perpetually struggling with one another, the men unsure of their masculinity, having to prove it in their work, their “need” to be loved by their wives, and to dominate women outside their marriages, while the women are highly neurotic and dependent but oddly headstrong and impulsive at the same time.

Towards the novel’s dénouement, April, exhausted from her struggles with her husband Frank, determined to follow through on aborting their third child, sends Frank off to work with a little kiss. Frank is confused, astounded, but grateful as he goes off to catch his train. April thinks it was “…a perfectly fair, friendly kiss, a kiss for a boy you’d just met at a party. The only real mistake, the only wrong and dishonest thing, was ever to have seen him as anything more than that. Oh, for a month or two, just for fun, it might be all right to play a game like that with a boy; but all these years! And all because, in a sentimentally lonely time long ago, she had found it easy and agreeable to believe whatever this one particular boy felt like saying, and to repay him for that pleasure by telling easy, agreeable lies of her own, until each was saying what the other most wanted to hear – until he was saying ‘I love you’ and she was saying ‘really, I mean it; you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.’” Indeed, liars in love. It perfectly described my own experience and I’ve been hooked on Yates ever since.

Yates characters wear different personas, playacting their way through their lives, with a natural capacity for self deception and disingenuousness. The book begins with a play in which April acts in a community theatre production. For a month after April finds she is pregnant with this third child, she and Frank go through their own elaborate play, she wanting an abortion (supposedly for Frank’s sake) and Frank wanting the child (supposedly for moral reasons). Subliminally he realizes that the pregnancy will put to rest April’s impetuous desire to move to Paris and thus leave them with a “comfortable” suburban life: “And so the way was clear for the quiet, controlled, dead serious debate with which they began to fill one after another of the calendar’s days, a debate that kept them both in a finely drawn state of nerves that was not at all unpleasant. It was very like a courtship….His main tactical problem, in this initial phase of the campaign, was to find ways of making his position attractive, as well as commendable. The visits to town and country restaurants were helpful in this connection; she had only to glance around her in such places to discover a world of handsome, graceful, unquestionably worthwhile men and women, who had somehow managed to transcend their environment – people who had turned dull jobs to their own advantage, who had exploited the system without knuckling under it, who would certainly tend, if they knew the facts of the Wheelers’ case, to agree with him.”

Yates tackles the suburban landscape, reminiscent of Cheever and Updike, something that did not resonate particularly with me when I first read the book, but after having lived in the Westport, Connecticut area for some thirty years, now has a special meaning. Yates’ portrayal is more scathing, depicting a desolate place where desperate people, lonely and unsure of themselves, toiling away in an era of placidity on the surface with deep anxiety running beneath. He describes the neighborhood as “invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses whose bright, uncurtained windows winked blandly through a dappling of green and yellow leaves.” The women raise the kids in their manicured homes and the men do battle in the city, snaking their way on the commuter railroad with their hats and their newspapers. Yates describes Frank, “…riding to work, one of the youngest and healthiest passengers on the train, he sat with the look of a man condemned to a very slow, painless death. He felt middle-aged.” This is as sad a depiction of the American dream’s corruption as could have been conjured up by Fitzgerald.

Frank works at his father’s old firm, a veneration of cynicism on his part. He gets a job in the Sales Promotion Department at Knox Business Machines, deciding “it would be more fun not to mention his father in the interview at all.” “The sales what? [April inquired]….What does that mean you’re supposed to do?” “Who the hell knows? They explained it to me for half an hour and I still don’t know, and I don’t think they do either. No, but it’s pretty funny, isn’t it? Old Knox Business Machines. Wait’ll I tell the old man. Wait’ll he hears I didn’t even use his name.” “And so it started as a kind of joke. Others might fail to see the humor of it, but it filled Frank Wheeler with a secret, astringent delight as he discharged his lazy duties, walking around the office in a way that had lately become almost habitual with him, if not quite truly characteristic, since having been described by his wife as ‘terrifically sexy’ -- a slow catlike stride, proudly muscular but expressing a sleepy disdain of tension or hurry.” Work too, is nothing more than a performance, something without intrinsic meaning, like other aspects of their lives.

Paradoxically, the one character in the novel who does not suffer from self deception, is their real estate agent’s son, John, who is an inmate in a mental institution, one who occasionally visits the Wheelers when he is released to his parents. When he learns that the Wheelers are not going to move to France and that April is pregnant, he says to them, first referring to Frank, “Big man you got here, April…Big family man, solid citizen. I feel sorry for you. Still, maybe you deserve each other. Matter of fact, the way you look right now, I’m beginning to feel sorry for him too. I mean come to think of it, you must give him a pretty bad time, if making babies is the only way he can prove he’s got a pair of balls….Hey, I’m glad of one thing, though? You know what I’m glad of? I’m glad I’m not gonna be that kid.”

Yates wrote six novels after Revolutionary Road. Among my favorites was Easter Parade, but Revolutionary Road stands on its own. He also had his short stories published in the two collections mentioned earlier, and, finally, he became more widely recognized with the publication of the Collected Stories of Richard Yates a few years ago. The wonderful introduction to this edition was written by Richard Russo who is yet another contemporary author influenced by Yates.

A must read article on Yates “The Lost World of Richard Yates; How the great writer of the Age of Anxiety disappeared from print” was published in the October/November 1999 issue of the Boston Review by Stewart O’Nan. He thoroughly covers Yates’ history and writing, but I was disappointed O’Nan failed to mention the edition of Revolutionary Road we kept in print for those ten years. Nonetheless, I would like to think our edition did its small part in keeping Yates’ extraordinary novel alive.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Lake Years

This continues a previous blog entry: Once I left for college, my boating days were over for a while. In fact I never even thought about life on the water, or boating, until Ann and I were married in early 1970. This event coincided with my one and only change of jobs during my working career, leaving New York City to run a division of Greenwood Press which had just relocated to Westport, CT. Westport is on the Long Island Sound, probably, along with the Chesapeake, one of the most interesting bodies of water for the pleasure boater on the east coast. The Long Island Sound has been called the inland sea, boarded by the north coast of Long Island and the south coast of Connecticut, a narrowing funnel of water meeting New York’s East River and, through Hell’s Gate, the Hudson River.

Between these points are thousands of ports, marinas, coves, and anchorages, a boater’s dream. Still, that was not on my mind when I experienced these two major events within two months of one another, changing jobs and getting married (for the second time in my case, which made it even more momentous).

I initially did the reverse commute to Westport, keeping Ann’s rent controlled $83.00 per month one bedroom apartment at 33 west 63rd street pictured here, while I moved out of my studio at 66 west 85th street. Her apartment was ideally located between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue and it was hard to contemplate giving it up; therefore, we were determined to stay in NYC. So at about 6.00 am I would set out to my Chevrolet Nova which was parked in a lot a few blocks away and drive over to the West Side Highway to the Cross Westchester, to the Hutchinson Parkway, to the Merritt Parkway, to Exit 41 and onto the Greenwood office which, at the time, was on Riverside Avenue (more water – the office was on the Saugatuck River, directly south of the US 1 Bridge).

With minimal traffic, I would get into the office by 7.30 am and would normally leave around 6.00 pm, getting back to our apartment by 7.30 pm. Ann, meanwhile, was still working where we had met, at Johnson Reprint, 111 5th Avenue. I envied her short subway commute.

After one full winter and spring of this commute, someone in my office mentioned that she knew someone who was trying to rent a “caretaker’s cottage” that was on a 9-1/2 acre estate in northern Westport, near a waterfall and a fresh water swimming area, which eventually emptied into the Saugatuck River. As the renters were expected to do some of the rudimentary maintenance, the rent was only $125 per month. At that rate, we figured that we could maintain our rent controlled apartment and split our living between Westport and NYC.

The cottage was originally the estate’s living quarters for the chauffer and was attached to a three car garage. It had no central heat; just a tiny gas heater in the kitchen, a small dining room into which I was able to squeeze a barroom piano (two less octaves than the normal 88 keys), a little living room with stairs that led to the small bedroom where we slept on a platform bed. It was roughing it, but it was our introduction to our new life in Connecticut.

As it turned out, living out of two places was more difficult than we anticipated, never knowing what clothes were where, and working out schedules, so we finally decided to make our Westport cottage our main residence, and kept the apartment for occasional weekends in the city.

This led to Ann having to commute during the entire week to Manhattan on Metro North, my driving her to a 7.30 am train and then going to my office only five minutes from the train station, usually picking her up around 6.45 pm each evening. By then I was in the habit of taking home work from the office as well, so while she prepared dinner, I did my work or sometimes played the piano, working later. In the interest of full disclosure, while Ann rarely complained about the vicissitudes of commuting, working, and then returning home to play the role of housewife, over the years this has become a bone of contention, she pointing out that I never fully appreciated those sacrifices, which I guess I didn’t at the time. We were younger and had boundless energy. After all, I rationalized, I dropped her off and worked until I picked her up and then worked again once home, but I guess that didn’t quite compare to the Trifecta of working, commuting, and cooking. So, publically, I say I’m sorry that is the way it was, and maybe I could have helped more, but at the time I was obsessed with my career and my work.

I guess the foregoing does not have much to do with our boating lives but our personal history at the time is relevant as more details will reveal.

So aside from our careers and day to day work at living, we tried to fit some leisurely activity into our busy lives. But what to do? First we were convinced that we were campers. I loved the outdoors and although the totality of my camping life was confined to two weeks at a Boy Scout camp in the Poconos when I was about ten, and Ann’s experience was equally barren, we found ourselves examining camping stuff at the local Westport store, Barker’s. So we bought a tent, a Coleman stove, and a couple of sleeping bags and we were set to go. I found a campsite in northwest Connecticut and off we went one weekend in June.

Here I am shaving on the hood of our car and Ann is cooking up a storm for breakfast. Happy, weren’t we? What is not revealed in this the day after the awful night is the state of my allergies. For years I had respiratory problems when exposed to tree pollen. Over the years this condition has completely disappeared. But when we arrived at the campsite late in the afternoon we unknowingly bedded down in the midst of a pollen forest. At first I was fine. When I got up my eyes were tearing and I was wheezing, but managed to get though the morning. By the afternoon we had to pack up and head for the nearest air conditioned motel. By that evening I could hardly breathe and we considered a hospital visit. Needless to say, that was the end of our camping days, at least, camping on land.

Having eliminated camping from our vacation repertoire, we thought about a bucolic weekend at the Roaring Brook Ranch near Lake George, NY. During my high school years I had done some horseback riding in Forest Park, and Ann had a little experience too, so we thought a leisurely ride with a novice group might be fun. So we made a reservation and drove up to Lake George one weekend. Unfortunately, at the appointed time, the novice group was cancelled as there was a light rain and the trails were muddy. Heck, I thought, I know how to ride a horse so I went out with the advanced group. Ann wisely stayed behind.

But my experience with the docile truck horses of Forest Park was not well matched to the conditions. As we broke out into a gallop in single file, I saw one of the lead horses rear up, throwing its rider into the mud and spooking all the other horses, including mine who also decided to rear its clueless rider. I did everything wrong, dropping the reins and hanging for dear life onto the saddle. So, that was the end of my riding days.

But driving by Lake George we were struck by its sylvan beauty and its size and we made a mental note of wanting to visit the lake itself someday. In the meantime, before Jonathan was born, we continued with our professional lives, and bought our first house, right across the street from where we rented, on the road made famous by Robert Lawson’s book, Rabbit Hill. Two years later we moved again to nearby Weston, but more on this part of our lives in a later entry.

We returned to Lake George a number of times in the late 1970’s after Jonathan was born. We first rented a room in a lodge that provided meals family style. The lodge owned an island in the middle of the lake.

Here is Jonathan watching one of the excursion boats on the lake. We took that boat and explored the entirety of Lake George from The Village of Lake George, at the south end to Ticonderoga at the northern end. The Village itself was touristy and honky-tonk, but we loved the lake.

So, when Ann’s cousins, Sherman and Mimi visited the Lake with us one year, I rented a boat, a fast runabout with an outboard engine and even a steering wheel! All those old memories of my little wooden row boat were rekindled. While there was no Shelter Island to venture to in Lake George, there were little islands and that sense of freedom and adventure which defines the boating spirit came to the surface. I was hooked.

After two one-week summer vacations at the lodge we rented a cabin with our friends Robin and Joe who had a little girl, Jonathan’s age, Amy. Sharing a cottage was not the same as our own space and we decided upon a different venue for our next lake visit – one at the Finger Lakes in the Canandaigua region. Again, we found a lodge but one that rented cabins as we brought Ann’s mom, Rose, with us. We climbed to Rocky Point but the best part, again, was the ability to rent a boat and to explore the lake.

The following summer we visited Connecticut’s Lake Candlewood, a lake that was closer to us, although much smaller than Lake George and many of the Finger Lakes. We went out on a ski boat there with our friend, Carole, and her sister and brother-in-law, my one attempt at water skiing. I was an expert at meeting the water face first as soon as I began to get up on water skis.

We seriously looked into buying a cottage there at small community with a dock but the thought of having to clean the gutters of two houses began to overwhelm me, so we reconsidered this plan. While we loved boating on the Lake, it suddenly dawned on us that, in spite of many lovely weekend days at Westport’s Compo Beach, swimming and reading the Sunday Times, we were forgetting one of the greatest resources available to a pleasure boater right in our back yard: The Long Island Sound. That realization changed our boating lives and led to our next chapter, to be continued.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Publishing and Tech Antiquity

Funny how much of a person’s life is defined about what you do (or did in my case). Reading over my first “blog” reveals how self-conscious I am about that. It is like going to a cocktail party and running into that ubiquitous question, “what do you do?” In retirement, I usually answer that I’m a publishing “consultant” (nice euphemism for retired or unemployed) -- but I still do some work on a part time basis, mostly to keep my skills and to stay up to date on my former industry.

Nonetheless, it is true though that so much of one’s life is defined by one’s vocation – the hour metrics simply dictate this reality. After all, more of my conscious adult life has been spent on my business than any other activity. I was one of those rare birds, having worked for only two companies in my entire life, Academic Press and then Greenwood Publishing Group of which I was President from 1973 through 1999.

So I guess it is not accidental that my first blog entry focuses on an aspect of my professional life that anticipated what I am doing at this moment – the ability to publish one copy for one person. I thought about this and recalled that some twenty-five years ago I gave a speech on technology and its impact on publishing at the Society of Scholarly Publishing. This was written at a time when Apple, Commodore, and TRS-80 were the top selling PCs. IBM had just introduced its own PC. The operating system was DOS. Windows was not even in its infancy and the Internet was merely gestating.

I rummaged through my files and found that speech. It is amusing to read it, but the opportunities I described then, still fascinate me today. I excerpt some of that speech here; consider it as a window into tech antiquity:

June 25, 1982


In preparing this speech I have considered whether it would be better to deal specifically with the question listed in the program -- "How Will the New Technology Change the Nature of Marketing Functions?" -- or whether it would be better to review how the new technology is already affecting the nature of marketing functions. I have chosen to speak primarily to the latter question.

Nevertheless, I do not want to leave the first question totally unanswered. To imagine what marketing methods may be employed in the future, and the kind of technology that will be available to the marketing manager, one must speculate about what end products will be marketed. This involves a certain amount of extrapolation.

If we postulate that a unique characteristic of scholarly publishing, one setting it apart from trade book and magazine publishing, is supplying highly specialized information to a relatively small group of users, we might agree that such information ultimately may be disseminated via a "perpetual" electronic data base publication. Publishers would then act as organizers and verifiers of the information in the database.

Users would have access to the data via terminals connected to telephone lines or cable systems. As the providers of the information, authors would assume some of the publishing functions, especially keyboarding. Although this concept is seemingly very futuristic, it is already being attempted. The Source Telecomputing Company, for instance, offers a database of some 1,200 services and programs to personal computer users. The Source explains that its "User Publisher" service is designed to "open your files, ideas and commentary to the community of your fellow subscribers."

In this case, however, The Source is not acting as a true publisher -- it is only an intermediary. If at some point in the future this method of delivering scholarly information predominates, it will have an enormous impact on marketing methods. Once the necessary terminals are in place, they may also serve as a medium for advertising.

Under these conditions, the best marketers may be the best indexers, those who supply the most effective access points, allowing an audience to key in to learn the most relevant information/research for their needs. Then, as Irving Louis Horowitz and Mary E. Curtis point out in their article, "The Impact of Technology on Scholarly Publishing," in the April 1982 issue of Scholarly Publishing, "The wide acceptance of such technology may also affect traditional ways in which publishers communicate with their customers. When searching of bibliographic data banks becomes routine, publishers may no longer need to invest in extensive direct mail to bring certain categories of scholarly books and periodicals to the attention of a wide spectrum of professionals, particularly if only a handful of the recipients are likely to care about the work."

As I stated earlier, however, to pursue this line of thought is to engage in a highly theoretical discussion. Richard De Gennaro states in his article, "Libraries, Technology, and the Information Marketplace," in the June 1, 1982 issue of Library Journal that we should not take for granted that this "new technology" will indeed create the bookless library. Such an assumption could have disastrous consequences for society.

He reminds us of the Chinese philosopher's statement, "Prediction very difficult, particularly of future." Hence, I have chosen to answer the second question: how is the new technology affecting the marketing of scholarly books today?

What exactly is the "new technology"? I think we would all agree with the conclusions reached by May Katzen in her book, Multi-Media Communications, recently published by Greenwood Press, that this technology evolves around "the new silicon chip technology, incorporating increasingly numerous and sophisticated large scale integrated electronic circuits [that has allowed us to produce] ... ever more powerful, robust and miniaturized mini- and micro-computers whose costs have been falling rapidly." A key element in this definition is "whose costs have been falling rapidly." The new technology is the widespread availability -- through the economies made possible by computer-chip technology and large-scale production of hardware and software that allow us to do our jobs better. Initially this technology was available to a select few. Next it became available to a much larger group of users, but only through the expert who knew how to communicate with the machine, the programmer. Now it is available to everyone; all of us as users can communicate our requirements directly, using third generation software.

There is a wide range of physical products; for example, word processors, mini-computers, personal computers, mainframe computers, video discs, computer-assisted microform systems, high-speed photo-typesetting equipment; they are all the result of silicon-chip technology. How is this technology affecting our job as purveyors and marketers of scholarly information?

One of the first areas affected by this technology is the final stage of the marketing process, fulfillment. How many scholarly presses could have survived during the last ten years without the computerization of fulfillment processes? This technology was, at first, "mainframe" oriented and is now available as "canned" programming for the mini-computer. Some smaller publishers can even have their fulfillment services on micro-based systems.

Another area that is being affected is the stage between the actual fulfillment process and the buying decision, the ordering process. This process has become increasingly dependent on various computer-based bibliographic systems. We have often wondered at Greenwood what the detrimental effect would be if we shut off all direct mail and space advertising on a particular title, especially of one geared primarily to an institutional market. Although we have avoided such a risky experiment, we suspect that by participating in "bibliographic systems selling" we effectively cover a large percentage of certain markets.

[Several paragraphs deleted at this point]

Perhaps one of the more revolutionary aspects of the new technology now available to us is the micro-computer, commonly referred to as the personal computer. Actually, it is the software, not the micro-computer, that is the important new development -- the set of instructions to drive the computer has changed dramatically. The genius of the newer software is that the user can now instruct the computer to do precisely what he or she wants it to do without having to interact with a programmer. Today most of the software, and the relevant publisher's applications can run on almost any micro-computer, be it Apple, Commodore, TRS80, or IBM.

As you have undoubtedly heard, one of the most widely used pieces of micro-computer software today is VisiCalc. This has become the best seller of all software, having sold more than a quarter of a million copies at about $200.00 each. It actually evolved out of an idea a Harvard MBA student, Dan Bricklin, had as a result of doing homework that involved a complicated, lengthy set of calculations. These had to be reworked in their entirety because one number changed. It was his idea that a computer program should be able to eliminate the drudgery of these types of calculations, and, after discussing the idea with a Harvard professor, he was sent to Dan Fylstra, a recent Harvard graduate, who had established a small micro-computer software house, Personal Software. VisiCalc became an immediate best seller and, as one of the original users of this program, more than two years ago, when VisiCalc was available only to the Apple (this is no longer the case), I can attest that our decision to buy Apples for Greenwood Press was entirely VisiCalc oriented. The initial availability of VisiCalc only on the Apple helped to make Apple one of the best selling microcomputers.

Visicalc was the first of the "spread sheeting" software programs, of which there are now more than twenty. The genius of the program is that you, the user, can define the relationships between various elements of a problem, and then insert different values for these elements to test conclusions without knowing any programming languages. An excellent description of the spreadsheet programs was given in the March 15, 1982 issue of InfoWorld, a highly recommended source of information on micro-computer software: “.. a spreadsheet simulator is basically a mammoth sheet of electronic paper configured as a work sheet and divided into a large number of rows and columns. In these blocks or cells you can enter numbers, words, or formulas. Numbers and words are displayed as you enter them. If you enter a formula, the program stores it, but computes and displays its value according to the current values of its elements. The magic is that when you change an entry on which the formula depends, the program automatically recalculates and displays its updated value."

Therefore, you can use the spreadsheet for myriad uses, the most obvious being budgeting. The program can be instructed to do laborious "if - then" calculations to determine most cost-effective print runs, pricing determinations, advertising expenditures and their relationship to sales, market research analyses, and other applications.

[Several sentences deleted]

The April 1982 issue of Personal Computing carried an interview with Jack Halbert, personal computing support team manager at Merrill Lynch. Halbert says, "the use of electronic spread sheet programs is in its infancy, just like personal computers." Personal Computing observed, "considering Halbert's assessment, it takes the imagination to try to conceive what the fourth and fifth generations of these electronic record keepers, preparers, and analyzers will be capable of providing for information hungry businesses."

Among other valuable pieces of micro-computer software available to marketing managers are a host of data base management systems. Greenwood Press utilizes a very "user friendly" system called PFS and the PFS Report. The PFS descriptive manual states, "Basically PFS works like a paper filing system without the paper so you can record, file, retrieve, and, most important, summarize information in a fraction of the time it would take with a conventional filing system.

[Two paragraphs deleted]

As you might imagine, given the flexibility of this kind of data base management system, it can be used for almost anything, to maintain small mailing lists for large volume buyers, book club lists, and publicity contacts. And, if the system is not precisely thought out at the onset, the available free-floating search techniques will compensate. For instance, if we were not satisfied with our Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress subject search, we could also search by titles or fragments of titles of the journals themselves.

Bear in mind that to use these programs you do not have to be a computer expert. To use VisiCalc effectively, you must have an understanding of basic mathematics, but need not know calculus or Boolean logic. The PFS Data Base Management system can be used with effectiveness after a twenty minute learning period You do not have to understand Basic, Pascal, PL/l, or any other of the computer languages to make these programs work for you. I am not arguing, of course, that the computer will ever take the place of the often necessary subjective decision making process, but it certainly eliminates much of the drudgery, freeing marketing personnel to engage in other selling activities.

Word processing software is also available for the microcomputer. These are not as sophisticated as most of those accompanying computers specializing in word processing applications. However, some of the software available for the micro-computer now offer eighty column displays and provide the user with a multiplicity of features common to word processing computers, including search and replace, block operations, justification, chain files, and others. Because scholarly publishing addresses relatively limited audiences, one can see real advantages in using this software to personalize the marketing approach. It is now possible to single out very carefully profiled mailing lists that, in combination with a direct sales letter, communicates the sales message best.

[One paragraph deleted]

The silicon chip will no doubt bring about significant changes in the world of scholarly publishing. However, a basic premise of this speech has been that new technology tools are already available to the marketing manager. By concentrating on the present and not the speculative future, I hope I have been able to alert you to some of these opportunities.