Just as you might expect, the offices of Publishers Weekly (PW) are a bibliophile’s dream: everywhere you look are stacks of books piled on desks and overflowing onto tables and the floor. While the ambiance is of a library or bookstore of years ago, there is nothing traditional about the 141-year-old publication. The PW staff is involved in podcasts and radio shows, e-newsletters, e-blasts, and webcasts, plus services for self-publishers and much more, including plans to digitize their extensive archives. To learn more about this multiplatform business devoted to serving the book publishing industry (and that means libraries, too!), a group of NYU SCPS M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students last week spent a fascinating time at PW. They met key staffers and heard what they do.
Over lunch, George Slowik, Jr, president and owner of PW (and an alumnus of the NYU Publishing program), told us how he acquired the magazine in 2010 from Reed Business Information. For Slowik, this was coming home: he had been the publisher at PW from 1989 to 1993. “It’s been a lot of fun to be independent, and do the things we want to do, unencumbered by corporate restrictions… particularly in new media,” he explained.
Marketing manager Bryan Kinney, who works on industry and audience outreach and events, podcasts, webcasts, and much more, added that independence means wearing lots of hats and taking risks. “Be inventive,” he advised us. “Take initiative… You can make it [your job] what you want to be.”
Other staffers followed, sharing their perspectives. Jim Milliot, co-editorial director and editor of business news, talked about the PW website and newsletters, which need frequent updating. That morning, in fact, Milliot was dealing with the death of author Tom Clancy, news which PW broke very early on. In general, Milliot noted, it’s important to update the content as often as possible, though he finds that PW readers tend to like their news first thing in the morning.
A major component of PW is its highly-regarded reviews. In fact, the company published 9,000 book reviews last year. Gabe Habash, deputy reviews editor (and NYU Summer Publishing Institute graduate) covers fiction, and talked about what this involved. “Part of my job is matching the right reviewer to the book,” he said. And sometimes the right reviewer is close at hand. “If a book comes in that looks particularly interesting,” he noted, “I’ll review it myself.”
But it’s not just these perks that keep people at PW for many years. Michael Coffey, co-editorial director, has been with the company since 1988, and works on steering information through print and digital. “It’s been tremendously rewarding to be standing in a steady stream of books,” he said. He discussed the publishing industry as “a wonderfully balanced ecosystem” and a “great mix of commerce, art, high scholarship and low-brow things. It’s not skewed by heavy money.”
One of the organic ways that PW has developed is through the interests of its editors. Calvin Reid, senior news editor, also loves comic books, and has expanded the magazine’s coverage of that genre. The latest trend, he observed, is digital comics, “the new ways of telling stories.”
On the digital side, we met Craig Teicher, director of digital operations, who runs the website with another member. One of the most fascinating tasks, Teicher said, is “trying to find new business opportunities through the website.” Part of the challenge, he added, is that “we’re not a magazine anymore—we’re a business with many different prongs.”
When you visit the site, you’ll notice PW Radio. We had a chance to meet senior editor Mark Rotella and reviews editor Rose Fox, who co-host the radio show. “We do like to have some big names on the show,” Rotella said, and “you often find gems in the mid list.”
Finally, we were introduced to senior children’s book editor Diane Roback, who has seen a lot of change in her business. “The media is very interested in what’s going on with children’s books,” she said, noting the rising attention paid to PW Children’s Bookshelf, a widely-read newsletter. An early riser, Roback also tweets children’s news first thing each morning.
When we entered the PW office, we were expecting to learn about a magazine that reports on the publishing industry. Two and a half hours later, we understood that the company isn’t just speeding forward, it’s moving in every direction possible.
by Diah Mehera