Shaken in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center, the New York publishing industry struggled to open its fall publishing season in a battered and partially shut-down city. In the days following the terrorist attack, many houses were only partially staffed, as employees remained at home on the advice of city officials. Many promotional events, readings, book signings and parties were canceled or postponed in the wake of the devastation, and the continuing uncertainty over the security of air travel is provoking some concern around the industry about traveling to the Frankfurt Book Fair next month.
The Borders superstore near the twin towers quickly evacuated shortly after the first plane struck one of the buildings was completely destroyed. Borders spokesperson Ann Binkley told PW that the store is a "total loss." The remaining Borders New York stores opened on Thursday. Barnes & Noble's New York stores were closed on Wednesday; all but three opened on Thursday.
All of Manhattan below 14th Street was closed to traffic by the city, making it all but impossible for publishing houses and vendors located there to conduct business. The situation was compounded by failing telephone service in the area, and a few houses were forced to evacuate. One of the hardest-hit companies was Abbeville Publishing, which is located across the street from the twin towers. According to Abbeville's distributor, CDS, the publisher's employees were safely evacuated from the building last Tuesday, but staff members have not been allowed to return to their offices. Company president Bob Abrams plans to draw up contingency plans with CDS this week. The Avalon Publishing Group, on William Street, just blocks from the World Trade Center, and Seven Stories Press, a bit further away on Watts Street, were both forced to evacuate and their were offices closed. D.A.P., a distributor and publisher also located below 14th Street, had only "intermittent" phone service, and by the end of week was forced to shut down the office because of poor air quality in the entire downtown area.
Pearson Education's New York Institute of Finance division had about 65 employees at one of the towers; all were safe and were relocating to Pearson offices on Sixth Avenue. Pearson's Penguin Putnam division, which is below 14th St., was closed Wednesday and Thursday, but opened with a skeleton staff on Friday. Scholastic also opened its doors on Friday after being closed for two days.
Safety and Cancellations
Publishers contacted by PW were preoccupied with the safety of their staff, emphasizing that they have not yet decided whether scheduled book tours and publicity events should be canceled. Jack McKeown, president of Perseus Book Group, answered his own phone the day after the attack and told PW that most of the staff had been advised to stay home. "We've got a number of authors on tour," he said, "but we'll have to decide later about things scheduled beyond next week. Those of us in the business know that these kind of events always have an impact on the media time available for books." George Gibson, president and publisher of Walker & Co., said the day after the attack, "It's impossible to know how this will affect publishing. But the media will be totally focused on this event, as it should be. It's hard to know if books will be noticed. But I don't know enough right now."
S&S spokesperson Adam Rothberg said there were "few people in the office," but noted that customer service facilities were shipping books. But Rothberg and Random House spokesperson Stuart Applebaum agreed that they would need time to decide whether to continue book tours and events. Wendy Strothman, publisher of Houghton Mifflin, also told PW that the house needed time: "Our people are safe, but it is too early to talk about events."
The most dramatic cancellation was by Warner Books, which had planned a Rainbow Room press conference with General Electric CEO Jack Welch for September 11, also the date of the one-day laydown. The house had also scheduled a signing at Barnes & Noble, a sold-out event at New York's 92d Street Y and an appearance on the Jay Leno show. All of the plans were put on ice within minutes of the first attack, and company officials said it would probably be a few weeks before they picked up again. "We had the laydown, but not the launch," said Warner publicity director Emi Battaglia in a distinction that, like so many elements of this story, is likely a first. Warner president Larry Kirshbaum said both his company and the industry as a whole may need to prepare for an unusual fall calendar. "I think Jack's and other books will be fine; they just may have a longer sales life instead of the early peaks you normally get. The great danger here is there might be some protracted military operation. In that situation, selling books or anything else would be very difficult," he said.
Even without extensive retaliations, others worried about the effects of media saturation. "I imagine it could be devastating. We have the most amazing story right before our eyes," said independent publicist Lynn Goldberg, whose firm, Goldberg McDuffie, canceled an anniversary party scheduled for September 12. "I don't think people want to go to the movies or buy books."
But some publishers noted that nonfiction books, particularly works on the World Trade Center, the Middle East, mourning and grief any titles that can provide historical or social context to this tragedy would likely attract more media attention. And publicists and marketers were looking for a way to make the best of an unfortunate situation. "We're all worried about the economy," Houghton Mifflin's Strothman told PW, "but at the end of the day, it seems to me that people will need books more than ever. It will take writers to make sense of all of this."
Publishers with terrorism-related titles, of course, benefited from the nonstop coverage. Tom Clancy became a surreal fixture on CNN, and authors like Wesley Clark (Waging Modern War), CNN's military expert, received enormous airtime. Walker & Co.'s John Steele Gordon, author of The Business of America, was scheduled to appear on CBS MarketWatch to discuss his new book when the attacks occurred. Producers asked that he come to the studio anyway to discuss the events. A book about the Clinton White House by hijacking victim Barbara Olson, coincidentally titled The Final Days, hit #13 on Amazon. And university press titles were moving up the Amazon list. For instance, Northeastern's The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism by Simon Reeve had climbed to the number three spot.
"We shouldn't feel apologetic in discussing our books," said Public Affairs' publisher Peter Osnos, referring to those critical of viewing the tragedy as a marketing opportunity. "We're in the information business, and getting information to the people who need it isn't taking advantage of the situation it's our job." But for all the high-mindedness, publishers also describe a fine line between ideals and self-interest. "We want to make available books and authors that can be helpful to society," said Warner's Kirshbaum. "But we don't want to be exploitative. We don't want to repackage novels about terrorism to sell more copies."
Publishers are also likely to be affected by the country's damaged transportation system. Osnos speculated that delays would "jam the pipeline" for as many as two weeks. Jim Chandler, chief commercial officer of the Ingram Book Group noted that the company ships only a small fraction of its books by air, and the suspension of air travel in the wake of the attack did not have a major effect on book shipments. He added that the company had canceled a publishers' showcase last week, and that both its customer service calls and total call volume were down by half. PW was also in contact with Publishers Group West, Bookazine, Koen Books and IPG; all report that they are back on track with shipments after initial delays due to the attacks.
Despite some concern about flying, the Frankfurt Book Fair announced plans to carry on with its show, set to open on October 10. There were no immediate reports of attendees pulling out, but fair director Lorenzo Rudolf sent a letter to exhibitors obliquely urging them to keep plans intact. "We must ensure that friendly links between cultures and peoples are not deliberately torpedoed and destroyed by such perfidious and brutal acts. We must do everything we can to fight against this," he wrote.
The two regional trade shows set to take place last week Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association went ahead as planned, although some changes were made. Thom Chambliss of PNBA said he was looking for substitutes for several authors who were not able to make the trip. He was also planning a tribute to the victims.
Bertelsmann announced its own tribute last week the creation of a $2-million fund to help support the families of police, firefighters and other rescue workers who were killed in the tragedy.
Victims, Publishing at Ground Zero
Sadly, two executives from Cahners Business Information, which owns PW, were aboard the American Airlines Boston to Los Angeles flight, one of the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. They were Jeff Mladenik, vice-president of market development, electronics division, and interim CEO, eLogic, and Andrew Curry Green, director of business development, eLogic.
The Avalon Publishing Group (which includes imprints Thunder's Mouth Press and Carroll & Graf) had one of the most harrowing experiences. Located about three blocks from the World Trade Center, the firm has about 32 employees on the 16th floor of a building in full view of the trade center. Neil Ortenberg, Avalon's publisher, told PW that employees still in the office after the trade center was struck could see "people jumping out of windows" of the burning towers. Everyone in the Avalon office, Ortenberg said, is safe. The company's phone system is down, and the office was closed until at least the weekend. But, said Ortenberg, "we don't want to let books shipping in October, November, December slip because of what's going on now. I guess this goes to prove we really are ground zero publishers."
But the book world did pause to acknowledge these frightening events with expressions of concern and moments of silence. Amazon, its front page usually cluttered with everything from toothbrush promos to CD release announcements, put up an eerily spare solicitation for the Red Cross.
And a small ticker on CNN Tuesday informed people, reassuringly if superfluously, that Americans were "gathering in airports, bars and shopping centers" to watch television. They weren't gathering in bookstores in the same numbers. But by late last week, readers had found their own method of catharsis, as Twin Towers: The Life of New York City's World Trade Center enjoyed a short run at the top of Amazon.com's bestseller list.