Alumni in the Spotlight – December 2011

Janet Behning is a 1999 graduate of the MS in Publishing program at Pace University. After working for a few years in administration at Routledge/Taylor&Francis, in 2001, Ms. Behning was hired as a production manager at Princeton Architectural Press, a publisher of books on architecture, landscape, design, photography and visual culture. There, her primary responsibility is book manufacturing. In 2007, she was promoted to Production Director and now oversees an expanded staff that includes an assistant production/reprint manager, digital prepress manager, and long-term intern. In this interview, Ms. Behning will share with us her insight on the state of book production and manufacturing today and the impact that new technologies are having on these processes.

Prof. Denning: Hi Janet, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview.  It has been 12 years since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program.  What have you been doing with yourself since then?

JB: When I graduated, I was working as the assistant to the president and HR director of Routledge, an academic publisher. For years, I had thought I wanted to work in editorial, but I figured out while at Routledge that production would be a better fit. I found out about the position at Princeton Architectural Press through a Pace job posting, and I knew their sales director, an ex-colleague at Routledge. I was fortunate that despite my very limited experience in production, but certainly with my ex-colleague’s recommendation, they were willing to hire me. There was a lot of on-the-job learning. About six or seven years ago, I joined the Book Industry Guild of New York, to meet and learn from other professionals in book production and manufacturing.

Prof. Denning: How has the industry changed since you began your career?  What was the work environment like then (in terms of job opportunities) as opposed to now?

JB: My publishing career had an aborted start about 30 years ago when I was hired as an assistant editor for the publishing program of a nonprofit located in central Indiana. We had a typesetting machine and a paste-up clerk, and I was first introduced to the Chicago Manual of Style, which was right next to my IBM Selectric. After a year, I moved to New York, hoping to find another job in publishing. I discovered that a year’s experience outside of New York didn’t count; contacts did, and the financial industry paid better. I took an administrative support job in a trading operation. So while the tools have changed dramatically, the importance of contacts (and the salaries) have not. Both of my publishing jobs in New York came through contacts, and many of our hires have some existing connection with PAPress or the staff. Certainly with the relatively small size of our company, it’s a fairly successful way to hire.

Prof. Denning:  Please tell me a bit about how our educational experience at Pace prepared you for your publishing career.

JB: I’m probably not a typical student because before I enrolled, I had worked for a metal-forming factory, a nonprofit, a securities trading company, a start-up litigation firm, and a niche retailer. So I chose the Pace program because it clearly was focused on finding a job or advancing in publishing. And I had a varied experience as foundation for the coursework. But the internet had happened during the ten years I had been out of the professional workplace. I remember struggling with just typing the internet addresses correctly for technology class assignments. But it was better to struggle for a class assignment than for a work task. And the internship program was a big selling point for the program.

Prof. Denning: Do you remember the topic of your thesis paper? What advice would you give to students who still have to write their papers? What do you think the value of writing a thesis is?

JB: Since I was working for an academic publisher at the time, my thesis was on recent developments in academic and university publishing. I discovered while I was writing it that I would rather clean my house than write. So, just do it—procrastinating isn’t going to make the thesis any better. My only other advice is to be sure you backup your work. A member of my family erased my hard drive mid-thesis. They survived.

I think that like many people, I do a lot of writing in my work. It tends to be relatively short—no longer than one page or a screen. A thesis a rarer type of writing discipline, taking sometimes disparate information and experiences and shaping them into a narrative that shows mastery of the material. I have no plans to write another, but I’m glad I was required to write a thesis. I’m also glad that I was not required to defend it.

Prof. Denning: Have you always been interested publishing? Where did that passion come from?

JB: I’ve always carried books around with me and would read whenever I could. At one point, I was walking to work and reading as I walked. So what could be better than working in publishing? It just took me a while to get the timing right.

Prof. Denning:  What were some of the highlights of your graduate experience?

JB: One of my first classes was with Berenice Hoffman, a Literary Agent teaching at Pace. She knew the business, and while we were students, she expected professionalism from us as well. She also had some amazing stories. The right faculty is key to the experience. I only had one professor that I thought was weak, and [he or she wasn’t] in the program long.

I ended up as a marketing intern at an academic publisher. Marketing would not have been my first choice, but it was a book publisher, and I was paid, which was important to me. I was not going to work for free at this point in my life. As I remember, there weren’t that many internships available that fit my criteria. One company was on the internship director’s blacklist because of how they treated a previous Pace intern. I appreciated that the school kept track of how the employers performed as much as the students. After six months, I was offered a full-time job in administration, which was a better fit for me than marketing. I certainly consider the internship a success.

Prof. Denning: How have you been involved in the program since graduating?

JB: It’s been a fairly low-level involvement. When I graduated, Professor Raskin asked me to join the Advisory Board. I attend the luncheons, which keeps me up to date on the program, and I attend some of the lectures depending on the topic.

Prof Denning:  Can you tell us a bit about Princeton Architectural Press and what it is like working there?

JB: PAPress started when an architect student at Princeton University wanted to own copies of some classic architectural books that were no longer available. He persuaded the library to let him photograph the books. The film was imposed for printing, and he was hooked. Thirty years later, the press still uses good will and limited resources to publish amazing books on architecture, design, and visual culture. The staff has grown in the 11 years that I’ve been there; we’re now at 25 with two resident golden labradors. The offices moved from Princeton to a rowhouse in the East Village about 25 years ago, and it’s certainly a non-corporate environment, both in and out of the building. Between a staff of this size and the type of books we publish, there is a lot of interaction between the staff.

Prof. Denning:  Tell us a bit about what your job entails.

JB: Several years before I joined the company, the schedules were lengthened so that we could take advantage of the lower 4C printing costs in China. A large part of my job is being the liaison with the printers, whether it is quoting and re-quoting a project, trafficking the proofs, sorting out manufacturing issues, writing purchase orders, and approving invoices. In 2006, I went to Hong Kong at the printers’ invitation to meet their local staff and to visit the printing plants in China. There used to be a significant number of printers in Hong Kong, but as real estate has become more expensive, they moved to China. Now I only print in Hong Kong if the book’s content (political or sexual) will not make it past the Chinese censors. I visited five plants in China, and each of a different size and layout. It was eye-opening to see the handwork facilities—large open spaces—with table after table of young workers, many working on projects that quite clearly were intended for a western market. But the greatest pleasure was when I saw one of our books on press or forms waiting for folding and binding.

Prof. Denning: How does technology/social media fit into your current job?

JB:  Certainly technology, whether it’s a layout/design program, Excel, database, or a file transfer program are important tools to getting my job done. While there is a tendency to think that everyone of a certain age is computer literate, there is a big difference between using a technology for entertainment and communication and using it as a business tool. The closest I get to social media is being a very inactive member of LinkedIn. But certainly social media, including blogs and Facebook, are important tools for the publicity and marketing staff.

Prof Denning: What do you think the future holds for book publishers?  Do you think the launch of designated ebook readers and the iPad (and subsequent tablets) forever changed publishing as we know it?

JB: Publishing was already changing before Kindle and Nook were added to the mix. We already had video games, cable TV, and the internet offering alternatives to book reading. Sales channels were changing with struggling independents, superstores, and Amazons. Self-publishing, both print and digital, continues to grow. Book publishing has always had an element of gambling. You think a book will sell, will find its audience, but there are no guarantees, so you work as smartly as you can to make that happen, knowing full well that it might not. I don’t see that changing.

Prof: Denning: What do you think the biggest trends in book publishing are today?  The biggest challenges that publishers are facing today?

JB: I don’t think my take on the biggest trends will add much to the discussion, partly because I don’t really think in terms of trends. But I do think that publishers will need to more clearly articulate why they publish and what they bring to the process. I see how much thought and care our editors and designers put into to their books as they prepare them for printing. I can see the difference between their work—after all, we are a design press—and self-published titles. As more and more unedited content is coming across our assorted screens, I think it will be harder to persuade readers of the value of well-written and well-edited content from publishers.

Prof. Denning: What companies (apart from Princeton) do you admire or think are innovators in the industry? Does Princeton have any direct competitors?

JB: I always read what Brooklyn-based publisher, Dennis Johnson of Melville House, has to say or is doing. I also make a point of stopping by David R. Godine Publisher’s booth at BEA, just because the books are so beautiful.

Everyone has competitors or there wouldn’t be such a thing as unsold inventory and returns, would there? I just don’t recall sales talking about any particular company. We occasionally buy titles from UK-based publishers, Laurence King and Thames & Hudson, so I’m sure that when they sell directly into the US market, they are competitors.

Prof. Denning: Would you like to speculate on the future of ebooks? Books in general?  What areas do you think will be the most impacted (textbooks, children’s, trade, art books, graphic novels, romance, etc.)?

JB: We use electronics because in some way it has made part of our life easier or better. E-readers were around before Kindle and Nook, but it was their fast delivery system that made them desirable. That delivery is perfect for genre readers who devour books and for people who have trouble waiting. The lighter weight of readers compared to many individual books is a selling point for commuters and travelers. The resizable font is a gift for those who really don’t want to read a large print edition. But there are many readers who are content with books and are indifferent to e-readers. Just as some readers only buy hardcovers, not paperbacks, we’ll see similar choices between electronic and print.

We’ve already seen that text-only books are most in demand in digital format. It’s harder but not impossible to create a satisfactory digital book with 4C images, but it becomes a question of resources, particularly with small- and medium-sized companies. We’re slowly working to include digital editions in our print workflow, but with the variety of our books, it’s not an easy process.

Prof. Denning: What do you think the essential skills are that our students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?

JB: It’s critical to understand what makes a business communication different from messages to friends, including conciseness. I know I’m old school, but I hate getting solicitations from people I have never met who use my first name. I’m also a believer in developing project management skills.

Prof. Denning: Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students?

JB: My work experience has been in smallish companies, but no matter where they end up working, it’s really smart to understand how the departments support each other’s work. Ultimately, it will help them do their job better. The core requirements of Pace’s program should be to give them a good start.

Prof. Denning: To those looking to survive and thrive in this industry?

JB: It’s a cliché, but you have to want to be in publishing. There are always easier ways to make a living. And one should never discount luck.