v29 #3 The Scholarly Publishing Scene — PSP

by | Jun 23, 2017 | 0 comments

Column Editor:  Myer Kutz  (President, Myer Kutz Associates, Inc.)

Andy Neilly was the first nonfamily member to assume the presidency at Wiley.  That was in 1971, five years before I joined the company as an acquisitions editor for professional and reference books in mechanical and industrial engineering.  Those were heady days.  The hours were 8:30 to 4:30 and the floor I was on seemed empty a few minutes after closing; commuters were already on their way to their trains from Grand Central and Penn Station.  As he was leaving one day, I heard Andy crack that he was heading home because “you can’t make any money around here,” but the reality was that the dollar spigot was running just fine in those days, when the Wiley family was ceding day-to-day control to professional managers.

Andy still lives in Connecticut.  He’s 94 and sounds sharp and hearty on the phone.  His eyesight isn’t great, so he’s had to give up his watercolors.  He devotes his time to family now.

I called him the other day because I wanted to talk about the origins of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which Brad Wiley, who remained Wiley’s CEO until Andy succeeded him in 1979, co-founded in 1970.  “I was on the fringes,” Andy said when I asked him who the other co-founders were.  “Curtis Benjamin was probably involved,” he went on.  The legendary Benjamin, who, among other things during his 38-year career at McGraw-Hill, had been responsible for the company’s entry into multivolume reference publishing in the 1950s, had retired as McGraw-Hill’s chairman in 1966, I found out after the phone call.  So I can only guess about his involvement in AAP’s founding.  Andy also mentioned Bob Bernstein, another legendary publishing figure, who was Random House president and CEO at the time.  His Wikipedia page mentions AAP involvement in the early 1970s, but not at the founding.  No matter.  “Prentice Hall was involved,” Andy said.  “They were difficult,” he chuckled.  “They wanted to be in charge of everything.”

In any case, as Andy recalled, Brad Wiley was instrumental in merging the mainly trade American Book Publishers Council, which had been started in 1945, with the older American Textbook Publishing Institute to form the AAP.  “We were not organized on copyright,” Andy said in recalling why Brad created the merger.  “The textbook publishers were mostly interested in the domestic market,” he went on, “but the merger brought in people who cared about international markets.”  

As I have tried, with the help of old friends and colleagues — Andy Neilly, Eric Swanson, now retired from Wiley, Dick Rudick, retired Wiley chief counsel and now on the board of the Copyright Clearance Center, Judy Platt, an old AAP hand, who is now Director, Free Expression Advocacy, there, plus John Tagler, VP and PSP Executive Director, who’s been at AAP for the past nine years, and Sara Pinto, PSP Director — to piece together the story of the AAP and of the publishers group within AAP that became the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division (PSP), money issues have always been present.  “People didn’t like to pay their dues,” Andy Neilly said about the early days, but over the years the issues have gone beyond that.

To be sure, there has always been enough money to hire high-profile men and women as AAP President.  (The head of a publishing house or an otherwise senior executive serves as chair.)  Edward M. Korry, a U.S. diplomat who served under Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon was AAP President after the organization’s founding in 1970 until he was replaced by Townsend (Tim) Hoopes in August 1973.  Hoopes served from 1973 to 1986, followed by Nicholas Veliotes (1986-1997), Pat Schroder (1997-2009), Tom Allen (2009-2017) and Maria Pallante, who has been installed just recently.  Tim Hoopes, a distinguished author of important books on Vietnam-era diplomacy and military matters, had served in government and worked in the private sector, before his stint at the AAP.  I remember noting, the first time I saw him, the stately manner with which he walked into a room.  I see him now in my mind’s eye, dressed always in a safari jacket over an Oxford shirt.  Nick Veliotes had been a seasoned diplomat before taking over from Tim Hoopes.  The early portion of Nick’s tenure coincided with my terms as chairs of the PSP executive council and the AAP copyright committee.  I consulted frequently with Nick, who always had a small pad and pencil in his hands.  He once called me his “godfather,” much to my delight.  Pat Schroder and Tom Allen were both multi-term members of Congress before their AAP days.  I would see them once or twice a year and enjoy talking politics.  Maria Pallante has most recently been U.S. Register of Copyright at the Library of Congress.

As far as I can tell, the PSP Division dates back pretty much to AAP’s founding days.  I attended my first PSP Annual Conference in 1977, at Absecon, Grace Kelly’s father’s favorite watering hole, or so I was told.  In those days, the small houses hadn’t been gobbled up yet by the giants, and the meeting was populated by publishing buccaneers who seemed more interested in their poker games than anything else, except making money, of course.  One evening, Andy Neilly gave a riotously funny address filled with stories that enabled him to employ an array of pitch-perfect tongues, particularly from the auld sod.  And all the stories would have been suitable for your great-grandma.

PSP’s  very existence didn’t seem to amuse Brooks Thomas, from Harper & Row, who was AAP Chair around 1983-84.  AAP maintained two offices — one in Washington, at the federal government’s doorstep, and the other in New York, where many publishers had their headquarters.  Eric Swanson, who was PSP executive council chair then, recalls Thomas showing up at the PSP Annual Conference, which was held for a few years in Hershey, PA, to hector the council.  He wanted to close down the NY office and spend more money on lobbying.  He threatened to go to council members’ bosses to get them to order their employees to accede to his demands.  “Look around the table,” Eric recalls telling him, “these are the bosses!”  There was a fight over money.  The marriage that Brad Wiley had brokered brought money into the AAP from the textbook publishers group, and PSP claimed that money as its own.  Eric Swanson told me that Brooks Thomas should have gotten people to raise the dues and hire a competent lobbyist.  Thomas did manage to interrupt the PSP Annual Conference for a couple of years, folding it into a Consolidated Divisional Meeting, but the prohibition ended when I became executive council chair.  We went back to Hershey for a year, and we started a quarterly newsletter.  (To be fair, Brooks Thomas, trained as a lawyer, did have a productive career at Harper & Row — until it was taken over by Rupert Murdoch, of all people.  The plot always sickens, as an old friend of mine often muses.)

“The Year in Review” AAP annual report highlights from 1983/84 and 1984/85 that Judy Platt emailed to me don’t explicitly discuss the tension and the fights.  (In both cases, the first paragraph, which discusses publishing industry financial results, covers only book sales; of journal subscription sales, there is nary a peep.  Such innocent days.)  There’s talk in both years of budget cuts, staff reductions, and “realignments” of programs and division staff heads’ responsibilities.

The Year in Review for 1984/85 mentions the New York office’s move from One Park Avenue, where the rent was scheduled to quadruple, to 220 East 23rd Street.  Later, the office moved to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 15th Street, where it’s been until now.  You’d have to admit that this second-floor space is quite generous, with a large kitchen area, mail room, comfortable individual offices for staff members, and a double-sized conference room that is used for executive council and committee meetings, the annual two-day judging for the PROSE Awards, and the many workshops that PSP operates for junior staff members at publishing houses, covering such topics as finance for non-financial professionals, publishing professional, scholarly and academic books, and publishing journals.  The latter two workshops have been running for many years.

AAP budgetary constraints are forcing closure of this New York office.  Staff members are working at home and at desk space 16 blocks uptown.  So far, they’re coping quite well.  Now you’d have to admit, when you look at the long list of public policy and legislative letters, submissions, and statements that are available on the AAP website, that all staff members need to get such jobs done is a telephone, a computer, and an Internet connection.  PSP also oversees important surveys, including roundups of journal publishing, which involve extensive reporting from publishers.  Again, you don’t need a suite of offices in Manhattan to get these jobs done either, although you do have to continually keep on top of busy staffers at publishing houses to obtain extensive data.

What also concerns me, as someone with years of history with PSP, is the continued functioning of the valuable workshops, the PROSE awards program, and the annual conference (with over 250 attendees this year).  The workshops are to be held in publishers’ conference rooms.  Which sounds fine until some staff member complains about the unavailability of a conference room when an important book author team or several journal editorial board members are in town.  Moving PROSE, which has blossomed in recent years under the leadership of John Jenkins and with PSP staffer Kate Kolendo’s organizational skills, presents other potential problems.  There are well over 500 entries annually, most of them books, which have to be logged in and then boxed up and sent out to judges.  It takes a great deal of coordination to put on the annual conference and make it as successful as it’s been for so long.  (I’ve reported on the conference for many years.)  I wonder how easily all that’s going to be handled in the future.

I’ve been told that the New York office expenses were not sustainable, and I’m sure that AAP leadership can justify the closing in financial terms.  When I hear that, I think about Andy Neilly’s comment about publishers’ dues-paying reluctance, at least back in the day.  To be sure, AAP has accomplished a great deal in the past nearly half century, particularly with anti-censorship, copyright, and educational efforts.  But it did appear to me, in the days when I was running AAP committees, that  the movie industry, with smaller annual revenues, I believed, had a more visible and powerful trade organization.  

I understand what AAP’s top priorities should be.  I agree with the answer recently retired AAP president Tom Allen gave to a question that alluded to them in his Publishers Weekly “exit interview”: copyright and intellectual property protections.  But also important to AAP’s — and the publishing industry’s — survival are the long-standing educational, informational, and promotional activities that PSP, arguably AAP’s staunchest division, has carried out so successfully.  And yes, camaraderie is also an essential ingredient.  I hope these activities and spirit aren’t  allowed to wither away, much less diminish.  After all, isn’t a knowledgeable, informed, and collegial workforce a bulwark against an industry’s destruction?  


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