PubWest, the organization of independent publishers, has been holding its annual conference in late fall for over 30 years until this year, when the association held its first February conference in Pasadena, Calif., February 5-7. Everyone in attendance, from printers to publishers, welcomed the shift in timing, although heavy rains in northern California disrupted some travel plans.
Kent Watson, executive director of PubWest, said the change of the conference’s timing was largely due to the fact that November was conflicting with too many other sales conferences and various holiday plans. PubWest president Dave Trendler of Velo Press noted that more of their members are using third-party distributors (who often have fall sales conferences), making a fall conference difficult for members to attend. “The energy of this year’s conference is high – people really are responding well to the change in timing,” said Watson, who put total attendance at about 170.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Spread The Word," and Watson encouraged people to invite other members of the publishing community to join the organization. Pub West’s membership is up to 225 from 203 in 2013.
Instead of the usual keynote, PubWest opted for an open discourse called a WeNote,where comments and questions were posed to the group on various topics, including Amazon. When president Trendler said to the audience, “let’s talk about Amazon,” everyone nervously giggled which was then followed by members expressing the various facets of their love-hate relationship with the online retailer.
“Why do we hate Amazon so much? Are we being rational?” asked Trendler. One publisher pounded her fists and said she wanted Amazon put in jail, while another sang the company’s praises, and another declared it a monopsony, which he had to define for the audience (a market situation where there is only one buyer).
The WeNote forum brought other topics to the forefront like business transition, predicting revenue, and whether bookstore events were “worth it.” The group also talked about balancing profits and passion, and Trendler jokingly asked the crowd of publishers, “Is anyone out there losing exorbitant amounts of money and loving it?”
The conference wrapped up with Speedy Spiels, where nine publishers had four minutes each to present something useful they’ve learned in publishing. Kelly Gallagher of Ingram said, “Speedy spiels is excellent because people are sharing not selling.” The four-minute speeches included Becky Holtzman of Pomegranate comparing publishing to the art of beekeeping, drawing laughter from the crowd when she said, “Honey is really just bee vomit going back and forth from one bee to another, which is oddly similar to the editorial design process.”
Watson said of the conference’s open-exchange format, “We have so many years of combined experience in these rooms; it’s great to just let people share with one another.”
Cheryl Day of Ecological Fibers said that this was by far the best PubWest conference she’d been to, a sentiment that was widely shared. This year’s conference also marked the passing of the torch from president Dave Trendler to new president, Katie Burke of Pomegranate Communications who thought a February conference was a great move. “I think everyone feels fresh in February, with new ideas about how to move forward.”
Over the weekend, an underlying theme that kept emerging was how to adapt to the shifting publishing landscape, with people sharing their strategies and techniques, while unanimously agreeing that no one really knows how to predict the landscape, because it’s changing so rapidly.
Sharon Goldinger of PeopleSpeak said, “It used to be that the industry information was good for several years. Now the information I tell you on Monday might not be relevant by Friday, so we all have to adapt.” Trendler agreed, noting that the way to strategize is by sharing information, a mission they will continue at next year’s PubWest conference held February 4-6 in Santa Fe. “There’s no more important time for small and medium publishers to have networking opportunities than now. We are always looking to tap into what’s new and where things are headed. The question is, ‘how can we be more nimble than the big houses?’ This conference gives us a chance to answer that by exchanging ideas and talking with one another about what’s working and what’s not.”