Studying the Students: What Publishing Professors Learn in the Classroom

At Book Expo America, NYU M.S. in Publishing Director Andrea Chambers (second from left) moderated a panel with faculty members Justin Chanda, Brenda Copeland, Susan Weinberg, and Matthew Baldacci.
At Book Expo America, NYU M.S. in Publishing Director Andrea Chambers (second from left) moderated a panel with faculty members Justin Chanda, Brenda Copeland, Susan Weinberg, and Matthew Baldacci.

“Our students have knowledge, opinions, and experience,” said Andrea Chambers, Director of The NYU-SCPS Center for Publishing. Turning the tables on the student/teacher dynamic, she moderated a lively panel discussion at Book Expo America: “Lessons Learned in the Classroom: What Publishing Students Teach Their Professors”. Sharing their experiences in the classroom were veteran Center for Publishing faculty: Brenda Copeland, Executive Editor, St. Martin’s Press, Macmillan; Justin Chanda, Vice President and Publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster; Matt Baldacci, Vice President of Marketing, Scholastic Trade Publishing, Scholastic, Inc.; and Susan Weinberg, Group Publisher, Perseus Books Group. All teach in the Center’s M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program.

When asked about one surprising thing they learned from their students, Chanda remarked that in spite of all the pessimism you read about the publishing industry, “My students are remarkably passionate and excited about the business.” This gives him genuine hope for the future. Copeland was heartened that in this age of social media, students still look to word-of-mouth to find out about books. Baldacci has been impressed that his students can turn their own reading experiences into practical marketing ideas. And Weinberg found her students “very interested in exploring niche categories and overlooked opportunities.” For this generation, new business models are a way of life, and they are ready and open to changes in the market place.

Chanda stressed the importance of activating the passion of the younger generation. His experience in the classroom has changed the way he runs his staff meetings – he makes sure that he enlists the opinions of the junior members of his team. He also has established an “intellectual property group” whose members are below the level of editor; through their meetings, he noted, the members of the group have developed some remarkable book ideas.

While many students come into NYU’s M.S. program wanting to be editors, they quickly appreciate the different aspects of the business through their studies in all areas of publishing, including editorial, sales, marketing, publicity, promotion, finance, digital, and more. The panelists talked about the value of this broad education and how it contributes to reducing hierarchies as much as possible in their companies; for example, the best editors understand marketing and sales, and those coming out of the publishing program are very savvy about multiple aspects of the business.

The powerful overall lesson from the panel was that the students want to be involved and engaged more quickly. “I recommend bringing junior staff to meetings sooner and speaking to them about the bigger issues the company is facing,” said Weinberg. Baldacci observed that this generation thinks more collaboratively and advocates brainstorming, often with senior management. “Sometimes, young employees may suggest something that may not have worked a year ago, but just might work now since the business is changing so rapidly,” he explained. He envisions that this publishing generation will “blow up the structure” we’re familiar with and replace it with more group dynamics. Copeland makes sure to ask both students and young employees, “What do you think?” and respects their answers.

Looking to the future, Chanda said: “This generation will not make it 100% digital – the printed book is still important to them.” And most significantly, said Copeland, the students all safeguard the integrity of the written word.” So whatever format the printed word becomes in the future, the business is in good hands with the next generation of publishing professionals.

by Judy Courtade

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