Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The David Godine Blog Event Day Three - An interview with David Godine

For this third day in the David Godine blog event I have an interview with David Godine, the founder of this unique publishing house. 
David Godine and his son
Marya: How did you get into publishing in the first place?
David: We began, forty years ago, as printers in an abandoned cow barn on the last farm in Boston. So our background has always been, to some degree, in printing and graphic design. I think this is why we take so much care with how the books look and how they are printed, because that is embedded deep in our history. We really switched full time to publishing ca. 1975.

Marya: Your credo is to publish a few books of substance rather than large lists of books that are of varying value. Is this something that you consciously planned, or did it just naturally evolve?
David: I think I realized from early on that I was simply not capable, as an executive, of either leading or building a large organization, so the size of the list is as much s result of my own personality as a deliberate business decision. But it has certainly served us well: I think if we had grown into a much larger organization with greater ambitions, and by publishing more books every year, we would probably be extinct by now. In many senses, our size has saved us. It allows us to publish what we really like and do our crying in private and it also helps preserve a certain sense of "personality" in a business that has really seen the demise of the publisher as an individual or of a house with a distinctive and identifiable personality.

Marya: The publishing world today is so different from the one that existed forty years ago, which is when your company began. What do you think is the biggest change that has taken place?
David: I'd say two big changes; first the arrival , and recent perfection of "on demand publishing, which allows publishers to keep books in print while doing relatively small print runs and maintaining the same, or close to the same, production quality, The second is the number of titles published every year, which has grown from ca. 40,000 new titles when I began in 1970 to over 250,000 new titles in 2009. And this doesn't even include the books that were privately published and printed, which now exceeds those that are commercially issued. 

Marya: Many people think that e-books are going to replace print books. I think there are too many people out there who love the feel and smell of paper, and who like to hold a book in their hands. What are your thoughts?
David: My thoughts are that there is not gong to be single soul out there ten years from now who either owns, or will remember how to operate, a Kindle, but that we get very few phone calls with queries on how to operate the book. It's been around this long because it is a product that is perfectly suited to its use and to the user's needs. We get these scares every decade, and every decade the number of books published and the circumference of exposure continues to grow.

Marya: The books in your children’s book list are very eclectic and unique. What do you look for in a manuscript?
David: Something that says something originals, and hopefully that says it in an original, and literate, way. I look for a "voice,” something that is unique to the author and recognizable. I look for books that I want to reread, as opposed to just reading once. I always think the text is more important than the illustrations. The latter can sell up to 3000 copies, but the text is what carries the book, and stays with the reader.

Marya: Why are so many of the books in your children’s selection reprints of old books?
David: Well, think about it. Who buys these books? For the most part not children, but parents and grandparents. And they tend to buy, more often than not, books and authors who they remember fondly from their own childhood. And every list needs a certainly number of both authors and titles that are instantly recognizable to a buyer, that makes him or her feel comfortable with a list. Ours is certainly not the only edition of "The Secret Garden" on the market, but it is probably the best and certainly the only "full text" edition available. But we'd sell it even if it weren't. Because people recognize it, and probably have read it.

Marya: Which of all the children’s books that you have published is your favorite and why?
David: I have lots. That's like asking for your favorite children, but one of my all time favorites, still in print, is Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales" illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Edward Ardizzone. I bought it for our very first children’s list, at Frankfurt. No one else wanted it as the Dent edition was so badly printed and it just looked anemic on the uncoated paper. We redid the calligraphy, reset the book, and printed it on a dull coated paper and it's still going strong three decades later.

Marya: Are you planning anything special for Godine’s 40th birthday?
David: Yes, both a silkscreen poster (see the front cover of our Fall catalogue for the image, and that is me standing in front of our original type cases) as well as a forty year history of the firm with a fairly wide ranging selection of the more important and/ or interesting titles we have published.

Thank you so much David and congratulations on Godine's 40th anniversary.

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