Joe Braff remembers what he first thought about when he heard about the tsunami over Christmas weekend. The U.S. head of Imago, the multinational printer that serves clients as varied as HarperCollins and Harry Abrams, had sent its entire 14-person Singapore office to the coast of Thailand on a company-sponsored vacation. But it didn't initially worry Braff. "The coverage mostly centered on the earthquake. I thought, 'How could this have anything to do with a holiday in Phuket?' "
Over the coming hours, it became clear there was plenty to worry about. And when it was all done, the company had lost one staff member and four relatives of employees. "It's been pretty devastating for us," he said.
The tsunami doesn't seem to have had immediate consequences for the book industry. But the tragedy for Imago is a poignant reminder of how quickly, in a global publishing world, disasters on one continent can ripple to another. Though grieving Imago employees have taken time off, the company's Singapore office—which accounts for about 10% of the staff of the U.S.— and U.K.—based printing firm—has not suspended operations. But Braff said that, in part because this is a slow time for printing, he doesn't expect any backlog in printing or long-term publishing consequences.
Not that this has stopped the publishing community from joining the relief effort. Lonely Planet has seen more than 500 threads go up on its Web site since it created the "Missing Persons" section of its popular Thorn Tree bulletin boards—notes like, "Looking for anyone who has seen my father."
At Harry N. Abrams, publisher Michael Jacobs has announced a company donation to a group called Architecture for Humanity and expressed his hope for a pan-industry effort. Among the largest publishers, Viacom and Bertelsmann have each made a significant corporate contribution to the relief effort, while also offering to match employee donations. "There comes a time when you need to assess the situation not from a business perspective but from a human one," said Jacobs. "This is one of those times."