Festival of Books Diary: Saturday PM

By Neal Comment


12 P.M.: Local authors Liza Palmer (left) and Megan Crane have come to the festival to hang out; we meet for lunch at one of the food courts. Megan notices the galley of her new novel, Frenemies, I’ve been carrying around all morning. “That looks like a cool book,” she jokes. “Yes,” I reply, “Maureen Dowd recommended it to me.” We cackle gleefully. The nice old ladies sharing the table with us get a scared look on their faces. Soon after, Megan enjoys the official Festival of Books snack. (Lucky for me, she’s willing to share!)

1:30 P.M.: The panel on indie publishing turns out to be much more engaging than this morning’s “brass tacks” discussion. LA Times reporter Scott Timberg moderates at a good clip, asking lots of provocative questions, like “So who are the villains? Is it the Germans?” Johnny Temple of Akashic Books says he doesn’t see the situation as one of heroes and villains, but about finding ways to keep books relevant in the current cultural moment. “You have to be driven by something other than the desire to make money,” he says about the industry’s financial doomsaying. “I don’t see this as a threat,” agrees Daniel Halpern of Ecco. “It’s business. And you can’t really argue with big business. The question is what can you do to survive in that world?” Temple stresses the role of the individual working within corporate or indie publishing environments, pushing themselves to make a difference in the way the industry acquires and publishes books, a sentiment with which Robert Weil of Norton fiercely concurs.

When the subject turns to book reviews, Weil decries the cuts that are occurring in papers across the U.S. “There are dire implications if we can’t reach our readers.” Halpern agrees, but adds that consumers need to get seriously engaged with the problem. “If each of the 100,000 people who come to the Festival wrote a letter to the LA Times,” he says, “it would make a difference.” PW West Coast correspondent Bridget Kinsella says the solution newspaper publishers find will have to involve the web; Weil points out that he can already use the web to bypass newspapers entirely.