June 12, 2008
Trolling between the lines: Collecting titles at Publishers’ BookExpo
(Page 3 - Previous Page)There were also panels about film rights, bookselling and climate change, about Google and digital rights and digital editions, social networking, graphic novels, libraries, censorship, the Chinese market and the Chinese audience, the Latino audience and the panel I attended about -- no surprise here -- the Jewish audience.
A panel about the reading habits of Jewish Americans featured Stuart Matlins of Jewish Lights publishing house, Daisy Maryles of Publisher's Weekly and Ruth Ellenson of the best-selling anthology, "The Modern Jewish Girls' Guide to Guilt."
Panelists spoke of the importance of the Jewish Book Council run by Carolyn Starman Hessel, book clubs and synagogue book clubs. Matlins suggested that in his guesstimation, 70 percent of readers and more than 70 percent of book club attendees are women.
Ellenson, who has written for The Jewish Journal and whose book features an essay by Jewish Journal Religion Editor Amy Klein, told many humorous anecdotes about the pressures she faced to make her book less "Jewish." However, what Ellenson discovered was that what perhaps threatened to keep her from a mainstream audience helped her find a very loyal niche audience, Jewish readers who have supported her book in steady numbers since its publication.
No one who was in the room will ever forget when Ellenson told us the more "edgy title" one editor suggested for her book: "Burning Bushes."
At one point, Carla Cohen, owner of Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C., bemoaned the fact that there is not a contemporary version of "The Jewish Catalogue." Several audience members then volunteered that they were the authors of soon-to-be-published books hoping to fill the gap, among them "Cool Jew" by Lisa Alcalay Klug (Andrews McNeil).
There was some question of if, and why, Jews buy a disproportionate number of books. Is it just a matter of education?
In some sense, this begged a question that nagged at the whole BookExpo: Whither books?
Is the book industry going the way of the music industry? Or the newspaper industry? Is digital the future? What percentage of the population will read books on their Kindle or other electronic devices or even on their Blackberry? If most nonfiction titles sell only 6,000 copies, how can such small sales support writers, editors, publishing companies?
The answer is, of course, no one knows, but stay tuned -- or more to the point, keep reading.
Matlins had the best precis of the current marketplace: "The people who buy books," he opined, "are the people who buy books."
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward.