Take the leap.

State of Publishing recap, pics!

What IS publishing today, anyways? And can the people who create content—we’re talking quality content (also undefined)—make it in a way that’s sustainable?

Matt Dees, editor for Durham Magazine, who came when publisher Dan Shannon said he couldn’t, told us that one of his first mentors asked a room of journalism hopefuls why newspapers exist. It isn’t to save the world, or anything. It’s to make money. With that not happening, stuff’s changed.

I also had invited, as guest panelists: Julie Johnson of All About Beer magazine; Lisa Sorg of the Independent Weekly; Michael Faber of Bound Custom Journals; Aaron Mandel of online blog Clarion Content; and photographer John Gessner, who joined us from out of town because he wanted to hear what Triangle folks in publishing had to say about where it is today.

A small group breakout.

Guest Paul Deblinger, [left in pic], a writer who earned his chops working for a few agencies, told us that we all have this overblown idea about books. That if you get a book out, you’re made, or something.

But the thing is, he said, the book industry is smaller than dog food. A fifth the size. A successful book only sells 5,000 copies, he said.

That checks with the figure quoted to me in a #blogchat session, when someone told us that if you go through a traditional route, you’ll likely get only a quarter a book. The whopping total? $1,250. I made about that much serving gelato at Francesca’s the summer of 1999. I was saving for a round-the-world adventure. To, you know, do something.

People who write, and make art, tend to want to do something.

That, to me, was what I personally saw in the room of about two dozen people, gathered on a Monday evening out of sheer curiosity. Passion brings people out of their homes on winteresque evenings in October in Durham, when the rain comes down, and the venue’s a little hard to find because most people haven’t been.

But it worked.

Mercury Studio provided some tea, and I brought champagne. What boggles the mind to me is how I managed to bring some of it back home, because anytime I ever hung out with writers, we’d drink anything that looked remotely alcoholic, then we’d go to the pub for rounds, until someone petered out and got Ballygowan. Maybe because this was Ireland, where I eloped with Akira, my partner now at Design Kompany and Orangutan Swing. (This is our story.)

On dialogue and the art of listening with respect

A woman next to me edited scholarly journals for her career, and now is turning to fiction. But what she said that I can’t stop thinking about is how academics review one another’s work prior to its publication, and now, if someone publishes something untrue, they’re called on it by experts.

I loved talking with her when our one-hour session ended (too short for some people, but many e-mails to me shared the relief when one person stopped trying to dominate the conversation. That happens. You know what I mean?)

We get these Orangutan Swings going, and you just don’t know who’s going to do that. I learned something, too. You really have to set the stage pretty well. Dialogue is a conversation with a center, not sides. And it’s not about talking about what you think all the time. It’s about, 99%, listening.

I got this from mentors I’ve never met. They’re people like Edward de Bono, the author of Six Thinking Hats, and William Isaacs, who wrote Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. Also just found David Bohm’s book, Dialogue, hanging around the house. Akira brought it from the library, and when I saw it on the table in the kitchen, I felt like I was rediscovering lollipops at the age of four.

Bohm’s a physicist whose ideas tied with what the quantum mechanics folks like to talk about a lot — uncertainty — relates his work to dialogue. You just can’t know anything, all the way. To profess to, or hold your ground as though you do. Well, that’s not really a conversation, is it?

So what do you do when you want to make stuff, but don’t know how much of it is makeworthy? That’s a conversation we also tapped at MAKE, a roundtable on the creative process, earlier this year. Beth Yerxa of Triangle Art Works, attended both MAKE and State of Publishing. She posed the question, how much “stuff” do we need to create? Is there too much out there already?

Guest Nicholas Michael, who does film work, answered that by saying we as consumers of media trust certain sources to curate for us what they think is worth looking at and reading. It’s about trusting.

Technology as hindrance, technology as boon?

SO many people wanted to talk about technology! There was nostalgia for print, but there was also fear of clutter.

This tension happens all the time, and when the next day I met with letterpresser Brian Allen, who works out of Golden Belt, he said he only reads magazines on iPad because he doesn’t want a bunch of extra volumes of things hanging around. I think, too, he likes the technology because for a long time he worked for IBM, and also some startups in the Bay Area, and had electrical engineers in the family, too.

So there was that fascination with how things work, and it makes him, to me, a fierce interesting person when it comes to adapting aesthetics, the user experience, and design.

A woman whose name I didn’t catch told us that her small children were reading on their screens, not paper. That this was a huge shift from how she’d grown up. That things were changing, whether we wanted to hold onto nostalgia and the past, or not.

Michael Faber of Bound Custom would have liked him being there. I think Michael’s comment to me, afterwards, was telling. “I didn’t think I had anything to do with publishing,” he said. But being someone who cares a lot about design, and print, and the way it feels to hold a journal and smell the pages, well, you know. He does.

What’s next?

I hope that people got something out of this, if only to meet others interested in some of the same issues. These events are totally self-selecting groups, and that’s what I love most about them. You come because you want to, and you’re open about it.

Orangutan Swing is all about setting up a second session, more tightly focused, for people who want to continue the dialogue on Publishing. If you want to talk about it, tell us! Leave a comment with a suggestion for a topic. You can also find our Facebook group here.

Special thanks to all of our guests for contributing to the dialogue, to Mercury Studio for hosting, to Rebecca Downs for taking the photos shown here, and to Aaron Mandel for being such a huge proponent of dialogue, and publishing, in Durham. (And bringing his parents, aww.)

And to Akira Morita, for making me do the “totems” at the beginning because really, without an icebreaker, nothing floats.


  1. Victor@bicyclelab.com says:

    Sorry I missed it. What a fantastic recap. I hope to make the next dialog.


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