Some Words on Receiving the Book Industry Study Group’s Sally Dedecker Lifetime Service Award
No one stands at this podium alone.
My mom was a librarian. She created the first lending library at my Catholic grammar school. I, along with other students, was enlisted as library “page.” All the books we shelved had Dewey Decimal numbers on the spine, stamps on the pages specified by our school, and each contained a pristine index card housed in a manila sleeve on the back free endpaper—all the markings so loathed by rare book collectors. This was the experience that first enchanted me with the art and mystery of book classification, storage and retrieval.
No one stands at this podium alone.
My best friend in high school, the poet, David Clewell, invited me to join him after classes as a bookseller at the local independent bookstore. The books we shelved there in the late sixties and early seventies had no barcodes. In fact, the small press titles and mimeo magazines we tracked down at
Bookazine, Golden Lee or our magazine distributor, De Boer, did not even sport printed ISBN or ISSN numbers.
The publishing world was a wilder and woolier place back then. There weren’t so many corporations, but there were a lot of independent presses, run by entrepreneurs, outlaws and a few saints.
Some of you will remember the wonderful ritual of the publisher’s salesperson’s onsite stock count of an individual store. The reps used their own order forms or, if the store was more sophisticated, like the Brentano’s I worked at on Fifth Avenue, that store’s own inventory cards. In those days, Lillian Friedman, Susan Reich, Michael Meyer and Helen Scarcella reviewed the orders before they were placed. This visceral, physical process informed not only our backlist reorders but tuned the salespersons’ and the buyers’ instincts when it came time to place new title orders for that locale.
One of those sales reps was Laurie Brown, who introduced me to her sister Lynn Brown who hired me as a buyer at Waldenbooks in the late seventies. There, as we deployed that chain’s first point-of-sale system, I had my first experience with Hollerith cards. We grouped the stores by sales volume. We then hand wrote the stock level for each grouping on the card and sent them off to the IT department to key punch the data into the card to make the levels “machine readable.” Only thirty stores of several hundred were reporting actual sales at the time so we had to extrapolate sales volume and stock level for the others.
Those poor booksellers. I still apologize on Facebook to some of them today for those orders. Thank God, others, at present, are exploring new ways to resolve the creative tension between booksellers in the field and home office buyers in their ivory towers.
No one stands at this podium alone.
Harry Hoffman, David Cully and Tom Clarkson enlisted all of us at Waldenbooks to plan, build, operate and negotiate the first retail distribution center for a book chain in the US. In those days cycle time from a publisher’s warehouse was measured in weeks, if not months. Some university presses closed their warehouses for the summer. Everyone, it seemed, accumulated backorders to optimize offset print runs. That’s a bookselling atrocity I am sure no one in this room practices today.
I knew Tom’s handy work before I knew Tom. I had used the Ingram Microfiche in the various independents I had worked for and at Brentano’s. You can read all about the innovations Harry and Tom brought to the industry (under the watchful eye of Bronson Ingram) in this wonderful book. Written by Keel Hunt, published by West Margin Press, the title is The Family Business: How Ingram
Transformed the World of Books. I brought my copy here today so Tom can sign it for me!
Working with Bonnie Predd, Harry’s Chief Marketer and David Cully, his GMM at that time, taught me more than the fundamentals of supply chain, so did Ian Ballantine. I had known Ian since the night he helped me configure a bold display of his Peacock Press books in the basement of the Village Brentano’s. Tom Dougherty, founder of Tor, invited me to a dinner at an SF Con. I found myself sitting between Isaac Asimov and Ben Bova across the table from Ian. I explained how I thought the principles of Waldenbooks’ in-store Romance Readers Club, created by David and Bonnie and their respective teams, might be applied to SF, Fantasy and Mystery. The next week the six foot plus, ex FBI agent, Harry Hoffman comes trundling into my office. He put one arm around my shoulder and started punching my other arm with his powerful fist. Ian tells me you have some ideas, Mister! I should have known those two visionaries would be fast friends!
Within months the point-of-purchase frequent reader clubs for SF/Fantasy and mystery were realities.
After a reorganization at Waldenbooks, which I should have taken in stride, I took umbrage instead. I brooded for a weekend, debated the politics with my new bride, then decided to walk into Harry’s office on Monday morning and resign. He graciously accepted. By Monday afternoon John Ziccardi, of then Bantam Books, was on the phone with me, arranging an interview with Jack Hoeft, President of Bantam Sales & Marketing, the next day. By the end of the week, I was employed by Bantam Books, six months before their acquisition of Doubleday/Dell/Delacorte.
My first project there was to load Waldenbooks and B. Dalton backlist POS sales for comparison into Lotus 123 on my new IBM PC and by that comparison develop sales leads for each chain’s
respective sales teams. This was much like the work Mike Shatzkin did, in a more programmatic way, a bit later with several publishers. In addition, I was to learn the storied Bantam way of marketing and publishing books so I could apply those principles, as articulated to me by Paul Fedorko, to the Dell/Delacorte list. There I had the pleasure of collaborating with true Publishers: Carole Baron, Susan Moldow, Bob Miller and many others.
The eighties were exciting times for the book business and that combination of talent and sheer marketing chutzpah, coupled with the sales and supply chain acumen of BDD, amplified sales for each Dell/Delacorte authors’ titles.
Five years after I left Waldenbooks, David Cully led a migration of Walden alumni to Len and Steve Riggio’s already burgeoning empire. Antoinette Ercolano, Donna LeMaster, Mark Lilien, Russ Balleto, Neil Levy, Bob Wietrak and, of
course, Tom Clarkson, all signed on as well as Patricia Bostelman from Baker &Taylor.
Steve Riggio permitted me to work with his proprietary publishing team of Kim Brown, Jeanette Limondjian, John Kelly, Greg Oviatt, Bruno Monti and Mike Fine for over a decade, acquiring rights for exclusive bargain and trade books.
After Steve started bn.com he appointed me, Noah. At his direction, my team and I searched for two copies of any book we could find on either side of the Atlantic. This was when physical availability on a warehouse shelf meant 24-hour shipping or if you lived in Manhattan, same day delivery. That was a compelling competitive differentiator at the time. Our team talked to any publisher who would talk to us. It took 6 months to crack the million-title goal he set for us.
The phrase Len and Steve used to use: any book, anywhere, anytime, still sends shivers down my supply chain spine.
Once the titles were in our warehouse we hired hundreds of folks to book-in-hand them, verifying 30+ physically verifiable bibliographic facts. We scanned the covers because they were not yet available from our publishing partners. Another competitive differentiator.
Of course, after Steve retired, I had to explain to any number of CFOs and CEOs why we made such an investment but that was made easier by our experiments with in-warehouse POD. Experiments we eventually merged with the efforts of Ingram/Lightning to help them make POD the industry reality it is today.
On an early morning train ride to Manhattan with Tom Clarkson I wondered aloud about how we could get the publishing community to better align
with all our efforts and, of course, he had the answer: BISG.
No doubt instigated by Tom, a brief time later, I received a call from Charlie Benante of Pearson Books, then Chair of BISG, asking if I was interested in joining the board. After touching base with all the right folks at B&N, who immediately saw the wisdom of Tom’s advice, I leapt at the opportunity. The board I joined had centuries of experience. They all believed deeply in working to get the book industry to align business practices, legally, for the good of all. Sandy Paul, Jan Nathan, Judith Applebaum, Jean Srnecz, Deborah Wiley, Cy Turk, Wendell Lotz, and, yes, Sally Dedecker, among many others, were around that table.
Working with the appropriate committees, staffed by scores of volunteers from across the industry, we were able to get consensus on bread-and-butter issues like barcodes, shipping labels, pallet configuration, multi volume set handling rules, etc., but the signature achievement of that era was the
consensus that we built on ISBN 13. I do not believe the industry could have coped with the explosion of content in all formats if we had not made that happen.
The list of contributors to all these efforts is long. I am sure I will miss some names I should mention.
Jeff Abraham, Michael Healey, Scott Lubeck, Angela Bole, Sarah Raffel, all at one time or another, BISG staff. Richard Stark, David Boch, Chris Troia, Lou Ann Leary and Doug Cheney of B&N. David Young and Michael Holdsworth who were chairs of BIC during this time, Michael Cairns and all the folks at Bowker, Francis Bennett of Bookdata and his folks, Jonathan Nowell and team of Whittaker/Neilson, Brian Green and Mark Bide of EDitEUR. And then there is Dominique Raccah and Andrew Weber who I convinced to succeed me as co-chairs back in 2007, both of whom continue to contribute mightily to the industry to this day.
No one stands at this podium alone.
I looked back at the last speech I gave to the assembled members of BISG. I was strident about ISTC, IPI, DOI, CPFR and RFID. All the acronyms the International Anti-Acronym Society (better known as IAAS) feared most. There’s been extraordinarily little progress on any of them in the trade book world at least. Search engines still can’t easily disambiguate Bill Knott, one of my favorite poets, from Bill Knott the suspense novelist or Bill Knott the YA author.
Well, today, I like to take long walks in the woods, discover forgotten paths, pull dusty volumes off the shelves of a good, used bookstore, (of which there are still many). I take the books I buy home and breathe life back into the printed pages by reading the words aloud. Recently, I found a reprint copy of Marianne Moore’s book of poems, Observations, for which she won the Dial award in 1924. I would like to read a brief poem called “Reinforcements” from that volume. Moore authored the poem shortly
after the United States entered World War I. I think the poem wears well a century later, although she chose not to include it in her “Complete Poems.” If I didn’t think Ms. Moore would haunt me, I would have changed the word “men” in the second line of the poem to “humans”:
The vestibule to experience is not to Be exalted into epic grandeur. These men are going To their work with this idea, advancing like a school of fish through
Still water—waiting to change the course or dismiss The idea of movement, till forced to. The words of the Greeks Ring in our ears, but they are vain in comparison with a sight like this.
The pulse of intention does not move so that one Can see it, and moral machinery is not labelled, but The future of time is determined by the power of volition.
There are times, in a career, in a life, when the impulses of an individual and the goals of the organizations we serve, align. Those are the golden moments when the impossible becomes possible, achievements are realized, and the future path becomes more certain. I’ve been blessed with many of those moments, and I have shared many of them with folks from this organization, past and present. Many of whom are in this room right now. You know who you are!
No one stands at a BISG podium alone.
I honor BISG, its members, its board, its directors, past and present for this honor!
As Longfellow would say, excelsior, ever higher, and many thanks to you all!