Over the weekend, Santa Fe's La Fonda on the Plaza hotel welcomed 180 publishers and other industry members to PubWest's annual conference. Attendance was up at the February 4-6 event thanks, show organizers think, to a timing change. PubWest executive director Kent Watson credited the slight jump in attendance to having last year shifted the show from fall to winter.
There were 45 first-time attendees at this year’s conference, including Laura Stanfill, publisher of Portland-based Forest Avenue Press. Stanfill said that by attending PubWest, she “felt a reaffirmation of what I’m doing as a publisher and I’m leaving with a new set of tools and goals for the next five years.” Not only did she learn practical actionable items, but also got some big picture thinking about the future as she grows her press.
Friday’s keynote kicked off with two people who have a proven passion for books – Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan, who are in the midst of their transition in assuming ownership of legacy bookstore chain, The Tattered Cover in Denver. “We are making a big statement about our beliefs and vision for the future of bookselling in general and publishing,” said Gilligan. Vlahos said that one of the things they are doing is updated their outdated computer system into a cloud-based system. The switch to the cloud will allow the store to make some big changes, Vlahos said, such as adding touchscreen terminals and giving the store more data to be able to partner better with publishers on marketing and merchandising opportunities.
Vlahos added that while booksellers are doing things differently, “the fundamental business model between booksellers and publishers has been unchanged for decades. That model doesn’t acknowledge the importance of the warm inviting spaces we bring consumers and surround them with books. We are your merchandising and marketing arm.” Vlahos said to the crowd of publishers, “Throw some spaghetti at the wall and talk to us. We’re partners. There’s a lot of opportunity here to break down the walls.”
The 2016 Jack D. Rittenhouse award, which pays tribute to those who have made extraordinary contributions to book publishing, specifically in the West, went to Elaine Katzenberger and Lawrence Ferlinghetti from City Lights Books. Katzenberger, executive director and publisher of City Lights Books, accepted the award for both her and Ferlinghetti, who couldn’t be in attendance, and talked about the role that “books and printed matter have in the cultivation of people and civic life.” She added, “If I truly live up to this lifetime achievement award, it will be to pass the baton so that City Lights continues on into the future and continues to be what it’s supposed to be.”
A new initiative in the works is making PubWest501, the educational training sessions offered through PubWest, more viable by shifting them from in person conferences to online classes related to publishing. To this end, PubWest is partnering with Per Henningsgaard of Portland State University, to work on developing these online courses, which will allow publishing employees to learn about specific aspects of the industry tailored to their needs.
The conference closed with a keynote from author Mira Jacob who re-delivered a speech she tried to give at last year’s PW Star Watch ceremony, but experienced sound system failure and an audience she described as having "turned away and started talking over me." Her speech, which has since been published online to viral success, talked about diversity in publishing and after she was able to re-deliver it to the audience at PubWest, she received a standing ovation from the members, to which Jacob said, “That was like years of therapy right there.” She urged publishers to pay attention to the issue and said, “The only thing that will really change things is you caring. When you wait for change to happen, you do us tremendous harm.”
PubWest 2017 will be held at the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon from February 9-11.
Note: This article has been edited to better reflect the events at the PW Star Watch ceremony.