Friday, October 31, 2008

Washington DC - National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is my biggest customer for Mondadori Printing, which is fine with me since it allows me to spend the day with this crazy, funny, hardworking group of people every couple of weeks. This trip, my mission is to try to convince VP of Manufacturing Phil Schlosser that even though we have the exchange rate against us at Mondadori, and even though it might be faster to manufacture right here in the U.S. of A. -- his plans for 2009 would not be complete without awarding a significant number of projects to Mondadori. 

Phil lets me know that I have some serious competition from Asia, the U.S. and even other European printers. By noon, after reviewing a long list of possible titles, my mission is not going well.  This is getting depressing. It seems like a good time for lunch.

We round up a group for lunch including Monika and Nicole who are Production Managers in Phil's department, and Mike who handles international co-edition printing as well as silly remarks at any gathering. We head over to the Mayflower hotel, which Phil tells us is one of a handful of hotels in DC that is "pre-cleared for security" so that all important Washington bigwigs can hang out here with confidence. This makes us all feel much better. At lunch Monika has issues with the size of the tables (too small) and the entree selections (too few).  Mike wants us all to order martinis. Nicole is pre-occupied with her James Bond-themed Halloween Party (which has got to be the best idea of a theme party in terms of cute outfit options).  And Phil is trying to persuade me that I need a new photo for my blog -- at which point everyone wants to take my picture, and I gotta say the results of this free-for-all only confirm that the picture I have now is still my best option.

Alas Production Manager Rachel has the day off today, and cannot join us - while Director Chris Brown stays back at the office, remaining incognito....

After a good lunch, and a stroll through the Mayflower, we get back to the office and have another discussion about book projects for next year. I talk to Mike and Gary and it turns out that there just might be a couple of multi-language projects that would be perfect for Mondadori. Maybe some other things will come up too. Phil is willing to take another look at the numbers, and so 2009 is starting to look a little better than it did this morning.

These meetings are more like a day spent hanging out with your friends, and it always is a little sad to leave. So, until the next time...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Washington DC - Publishing and Politics

Half of the year my husband and I live and work from The Adirondacks. It is a beautiful place to be Spring, Summer, Fall, and.... Is it already Winter? It is still only October and scraping the ice and snow off my car this morning before my drive to the Albany airport reminded me again why winter is an excellent time to be down in South Florida, where we will be heading in about three weeks.

I arrive in DC and have fun talking to everyone I meet - cab drivers, waitresses - about the upcoming election. Everyone is really excited and optimistic, and I wish I was going to be here next Tuesday when the results come in. I hope it will be the great change for the better that we all are hoping for. I drop my bags at the hotel and walk over to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

I stop in on Karen Siatras, designer and production manager at The Smithsonian, and she is buried under with catalogues she and the staff are rushing to organize and get sent out. A few months ago we reprinted a title for Karen on the 19th Century American artist GEORGE CATLIN, painter of American Indians and the American West. Karen waxes poetic on how wonderful it is to work in Italy versus China. I do nothing to try to convince her otherwise - and we discuss the possibility of doing more work together in the future in Italy, if only the exchange rate would improve just a little more.....

Later I am back at my hotel. My favorite hotel. If I was a hotel I would be this hotel. But it shall remain nameless since it is already nearly impossible to get a room unless you book weeks in advance.

As usual my room is adorable, though there is one feature just outside my door that I am finding a little disconcerting. (Some of the rooms have shared baths, but....)

I have dinner at the bar. A steady stream of regulars stop in for a drink or dinner and to chat with Chantal, the bartender.

One Frenchman who I have seen before waves his arm in the general direction of the room full of diners and says "this whole place is full of Democrats! The owner of the hotel will not even allow a Republican through the front door!"  Following this remark I am surprised that the next person who sits down announces that he is - A Republican! He lives in Alexandria and sells mortgages. He says to me in a confidential whisper, "Obama scares me"  and knocks back his vodka tonic. The tiles that decorate the bar area would seem to indicate that the hotel bar is really a non-partisan watering hole. Looking closely at the tile work I notice that cavorting with the elephants and donkeys are a few small rats (note middle right edge), which may be the best indication of the hotel's true political sentiments.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Returning Home to Find a Beautiful Book

Right before leaving for Frankfurt,  I called  the Verona plant of Mondadori to speak to a client who was on press for the Chipstone Foundation.

It was a familiar story coming from Verona: The printing was going fine, but the staff in Verona was feeding my client too much!

It is a common belief among those of us who have spent a lot of time doing press OKs that certain printers plot to make their clients more pliable on press by feeding them too many lunches with too many glasses of wine. And now, apparently, ice cream is part of their repertoire as well! Unfortunately for the printer, the plan usually backfires with clients becoming more ornery and argumentative after eating and drinking too much.

 The Chipstone Foundation is a private collection of decorative arts with a focus on early American furniture, historical prints, and British and early American pottery. For the past two years I have worked with the designer on this project, and I am astonished to see how she is able to take a relatively dry subject and through sophisticated design and typography create a book that virtually anyone would want to pick up and browse through. And how great is it that she decided on a racey purple and burnt orange for the jacket and cloth cover of this title which, according to the introduction, has the sober mission of exploring "topics representing four centuries of ceramic history"?

Aside from admiring my advance copy of CERAMICS IN AMERICA, this week was spent trying to catch up on emails missed while I was in Frankfurt and following up on likely acquisitions of some of the new book projects.

And it is good to be home.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Frankfurt Book Fair: Sunday - Going Home

A Problem with Packing and Shipping Materials

How is it that I did not notice until now that the zipper to my suitcase is completely busted? It is 10 minutes before my taxi arrives at the hotel to take me to the airport, and as I flip over the top of my fully jammed suitcase and go to zip it up, I see that the zipper-gripper thing has come completely detached from the zipper teeth. And there is no way to jam it back on.

Panicking only slightly, I call down to the front desk and instantly a very helpful woman with multiple rolls of duct tape is at my door. We struggle with my case, and do the best we can to tape the darn thing closed.

With the help of the cab driver and the duct tape lady we manage to get my suitcase out of the hotel and into the cab.  But something tells me this is just not going to "fly" so to speak, when I get to Frankfurt Airport Security.

Unlike Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark - airports I tried to avoid except when absolutely necessary - Frankfurt Airport is a bastion of civilization with an entire shopping mall at your disposal. And everyone is open and ready for business on this early Sunday morning! What luck! I discover a Tumi store and within about 10 minutes I am the happy owner of a pricey but very lovely new piece of luggage.

I am clearly not the only one who has ever had a luggage disaster at the airport, and the sales people are nicely set up to help you unload the old case and fill up the new one.

Catastrophe averted and I still have time to enjoy a coffee in the company of my lovely new suitcase!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Frankfurt Book Fair: Saturday - Wrap Up

At a seminar I attended a few weeks ago, the speaker discussed the art of "lasering", which boils down to keeping it short and sweet when you're in a meeting with a big group of people and you've got something to say. This morning as our two hour wrap-up meeting extends into Hour Four and Beyond, with multi-lingual digressions, references to Frankfurts-past (or was that the Frankfurt before the last Frankfurt?), cigarette breaks, chit-chat among friends, cell-phone interruptions, the usual misunderstandings, and the growing possibility of a mad dash for the exit on my part - I wonder whether this guy who came up with "lasering" has ever actually heard of Europe. Or Europeans. In Europe, everything has a background story, and it is usually a really, really long one. There is no way you could just say: "The Art Dictionary? My customer wants 10,000 copies." In fact, when I respond in this way, I am usually completely ignored. And later on, people don't even remember that my client wanted that book, or that this was even my client. Or for that matter, that I even work for the company.

Of course this is a ridiculous exaggeration on my part, because we Americans are also renowned windbags.  The truth is, I have just never liked meetings and I am really glad when this one is finished!

By evening, everyone has departed except for my dear friend Marie-Eugenia from Barcelona. We sit at the bar and have a beer, chatting about the week's events. Then stroll over to the Maritime Hotel for a sushi dinner.

It is just about midnight when we walk back to the hotel. The convention hall is rocking now, as end-of-fair parties kick into high gear. I am heading up to my room to finish packing!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Frankfurt Book Fair: Friday - Good Guys, Bad Guys, and that Turkish Guy

News of the sale of Mondadori having settled in, and speculation exhausted for now, it is back to business for the balance of the week.

A round of meetings with publishers Collins Design, Harry Abrams, National Geographic, Hudson Hills Press, Abbeville, STC, Taunton Books, David Godine, and others confirms that everyone is anxious about the economy - and everyone is still interested in publishing some pretty expensive books. High on the list of favorites is, in fact, the MOST expensive title that Electa has to offer, a two volume deluxe set on the Italian designer Fornasetti. (It's worth checking out this cool website). And I am pleased to say I did also interest two publishers in the big block collaboration of photographer Michel Comte and Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher.

In between meetings I have a chance to dash out and have lunch with old friend Ken Chung, CEO of Everbest. Later I stop by the Qualibre booth where my friend Charlie Lobello is dispensing Belgian wine and chocolates, while packager David Birdsall holds forth on pop-up books (right).

Back at the Mondadori booth, there is a commotion at the end of the day.  A group gathers at one end of the stand and out of nowhere body guards - with guns! - appear and position themselves "casually" in conspicuous corners of the room. Mondadori is hosting a party for the author of the best-selling mob expose "Gomorra". When someone whispers to me that the author has a price on his head, which is why he is surrounded by twitchy bodyguards, I decide that it might be just about time for me to head back to the hotel.

To add to the excitement, as I am collecting my bags another group enters the booth, from the opposite entrance, and these guys all have clerical collars. They are actually from the Vatican  and they, too,  have their own body guards -- a matching pair of big guys with the bulge under the jacket, leaning against opposite walls and looking like "don't even think of pulling out that camera to take pictures."  

And just to make things really interesting, still circulating is the same Turkish Media Mogul from two days ago, with his dedicated posse of reporters, photographers, and his own pistol-packing body guard.  

In the evening the Mondadori and Electa groups gather together one more time for dinner and a competitive round of napkin folding, apparently the favorite sport of a small town just outside of Glasgow....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Frankfurt Book Fair: Wednesday - Meetings with Publishers and Unexpected News

The first day of the fair and I've forgotten my German-English dictionary. However, these two should do nicely.

There is a surge of interviewing going on, all day it seems, with camera crews racing up and down the hallways. I can't remember if the first day of the fair is always like this, or if suddenly everyone in publishing has become extremely self-important. From the Mondadori stand in the Italian section, we turn to watch as yet another crew goes tearing by with microphones extended, asking one another "Who is that? Who do you think that is?". Then, lo and behold! They come stampeding into our booth!

A table is commandeered and a reporter sits down with two subjects, and they are quickly surrounded by a swarm of cameramen. The head of Turkey's most important media company has, to everyone' surprise, decided to be interviewed here in the Mondadori booth. Our Italian staff swing into action supplying espresso and biscotti. Maybe that's why they decided to meet here, we definitely have the best food....

The big news, which for the moment overshadows the various meetings and business conversations of the day, is that Mondadori Printing has been sold: the company has sold an 80% stake to Italian web offset and gravure printer Gruppo Pozzoni. All of us working with Mondadori speculate about what this can mean: some of my colleagues remark with satisfaction that they could see it coming, while others are completely taken by surprise. There are cautious expressions of optimism. Meanwhile I can't help wondering (somewhat irrelevantly)  about the details, like will the Mondadori Printing Headquarters visited by so many of my clients over the years on the aptly named Via Mondadori in Verona become Pozzoni HQ -- located on a newly renamed Via POZZONI....?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Frankfurt Book Fair: Tuesday - Illustrated Books ... and Men in Tutus (check out the link to YouTube)

It seems that everyone's plane was delayed, from Verona, to Paris, to Scotland. So it was a tired-looking group that straggled into the meeting at the Movenpick Hotel this morning with publishers Electa, Mondadori and the stock image agency PhotoService Electa. After a brief spate of competition over who was the most exhausted (in which I could not participate, having arrived the day before and enjoyed a good night's sleep) we got down to business.

Followed soon after by a break for coffee and refreshments.

Some great looking books, and strangely my favorite at the moment is a big block called "7 91" a collaboration between fashion/sports/celebrity photog Michel Comte and Formula 1 racer Michael Schumacher (who has 7 world titles and 91 Grand Prix Victories). Its a stylish blend of glamour and grit. Not sure who in the U.S. I might convince to buy it, but let's see. Also high on the list: a two volume extravaganza on artist, designer and "human volcano" (says the sell copy) Piero Fornasetti, a volume on Palladio, and two books in a new, chic, design series starting off with Milan interiors. Really nice, commissioned photography in these two. High-end art and design books are Mondadori and Electa's strengths, and this year the list seems really strong. I am looking forward to meeting with potential clients in the U.S. to show them off.

Also presented today was PhotoService Electa, a service providing access to over half a million images, primarily of art, architecture, design and Italian lifestyle.
This service definitely has potential: to see how You, Too, Could Benefit, check out this clip from YouTube.

And ..... the best way to end a day at Frankfurt is by having a drink with friends!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Frankfurt Book Fair: Count Down

It’s Wednesday evening and I am trying to figure out if I REALLY need to cart all this stuff with me, all the way to Germany…..?

The Frankfurt Book Fair runs from Wednesday October 15 through Sunday October 19 - but the action starts for me Monday, arriving in Germany in the late a.m., crashing out for a few hours of sleep, and then hooking up later in the day with friends and colleagues at the hotel bar. Meetings start on Tuesday with Italian publishers Mondadori Illustrati and Electa. I’ll also be pitching a new stock image service developed by Electa called PhotoService Electa. Wednesday through Saturday it will be pretty much non-stop appointments with various US publishers of art and photography books, pitching ideas and products developed by Mondadori, Electa, and now this new stock agency.

At the recent New England Book Sellers Association the talk was all gloom and doom, and a lot of fear about the economic downturn. I wonder if the talk will be the same at Frankfurt, only on a global scale. (I hope not! I need to get some business going).

Aside from meetings, there is sure to be time to investigate new leads, catch up with old friends and colleagues from around the world, and absorb the buzz of this great international rendez-vous of book lovers. I love this fair, and if I can just figure out how to get everything into my suitcase (while leaving a little room for at least one pair of new shoes that I am sure to dash out and buy) I will be in very good shape.

More to come next week…..

Historical Frankfurt Poster Image copyright Frankfurt Book Fair

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mapping the Earth and the Sea

Publishing atlases can be a dicey business.

First of all, there is the ever-present risk that someone, somewhere is going to disagree -- violently -- with one of those obscure hair-line borders, or those tiny unpronounceable names. This can lead to some very unpleasant scenarios. Second, if you happen to pick the wrong country in which to print your atlas you'd better be prepared to start moving land masses and borders to mollify local government agencies that have a different idea of geography from you.

Arguably the world's best-known publisher of atlases, The National Geographic Society has just produced two stunning new volumes for fall publication. These two enormous projects kept my colleagues at Mondadori Printing busy most of this past summer.

Published with the support of both NASA and NOAA, OCEAN: AN ILLUSTRATED ATLAS explores the “backbone of Earth’s life support system”: the ocean drives climate and weather, regulates temperature, governs planetary chemistry, generates half the oxygen in the atmosphere. Included are newly commissioned maps of the sea floor, same-scale geopolitical and sea-surface temperature maps, and several depth maps of principal seas. Underlying this book is both a sense of urgency to address the unprecedented changes occurring within the ocean and recognition of the many recent positive actions aimed at stabilizing our relationship with the ocean.

The enormous VISUAL ATLAS OF THE WORLD combines the signature cartography of the National Geographic Society with more than 850 locations designated by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. A unique focus of this project is the commitment to highlighting those places, both natural and those made by human hands, that represent our collective legacy as inhabitants of this planet earth – from the Great Barrier Reef, to celebrated wine-growing regions, to the Taj Mahal.

Did I mention that working on such a mammoth project -- one that includes over 1000 maps, illustrations, and photos AND a hand-made die-cut slipcase played absolute havoc with everyone’s summer vacation plans? From the cartography department at National Geographic that apparently does not sleep, to the craftsmen and women in Italy who hand-made over 63,000 slipcases in record time to meet the incredibly tight deadline, everyone involved with this project put other interests aside until those books were finally out the door.