PW Daily newsletter reports on publishing companies in the vicinity of WTC, one year later – by Steven Zeitchik:
- They are connected in the unlikeliest of ways, six companies that because of geographic coincidence became touchstones for how publishing felt America’s tragedy.
In mission they are as different as midnight and high noon – a noted art book publisher, a Hollywood-minded startup that had yet to release its first book, a store that was part of America’s second-largest chain, the publishing arm of a West Coast distributor, a two-man literary house and a scrappy political press. But on September 11, 2001, something as simple as a postal address lifted these companies south of Canal Street off of our map and placed them on an unfamiliar atlas of loss and confusion.
To them, there were no witnesses, only participants. The smell of burnt metal, the eerie quiet of streets without traffic and the sight of police barriers in front of their offices all blocked access to their creative missions. While most of publishing hunkered down in familiar roles – writing a press release, bidding on a proposal, scheduling a reading, donating profits – these six found themselves literal and figurative nomads, unsure whether their own psyches could survive the wandering and even less confident about the prospects for their fragile task.
In the first part of a series remembering 9/11, we look at several of these companies. One year later, some have still not found a place to return to; others have physically come back, but to places that seem forever changed. As was the case a year ago, these firms remain true to their cause of disseminating books. They seek to become no greater symbol. Yet as it was a year ago, a symbol is exactly what they’ve become, showing us that if tragedy often happens by accident, survival can be achieved only through will power.
What They Faced: President Bob Abrams was putting on his coat to leave his office for a meeting on the morning of September 11 when he heard an airplane fly over the publisher’s loft. Seconds later, that plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Employees evacuated the building as their offices were buried under ash and debris.
How They Reacted: The art book publisher soon relocated to temporary offices on 23d street. Because of a space shortage, many employees telecommuted. In the weeks after the attacks, executives also met to figure out how to commemorate the event. They ultimately decided to do a photographic history, The World Trade Center Remembered, which went on to become one its biggest titles of the year. “For people who weren’t there,” Abrams said, “there’s a desire to see the attacks from many points of view. [But] this book was the only book I could have done – to try and remember the towers for what they were.”
Where They Are Now: The attacks were both cause of and omen for a bad year to come the company has endured several rounds of layoffs and a scaling back of its list. As for its real-estate situation, Abbeville remains in a state of limbo. The company is still temporarily headquartered on 23d street and Abrams said he is not sure when or even if he will move into permanent offices again….
- A Year After The Attacks, Part II
Continuing our 9/11 series, we talk to four more downtown publishers
to see how they are faring.
What They Faced: Neil Ortenberg knows he’s probably being too hard on
himself, but he can’t help feeling guilty for moving the collection of
New York imprints he directs from its offices on 13th street to
Williams Street, six blocks from where the Towers once stood, in June
2001. From their office on the 16th floor, employees had a grisly view
of the tragedy; some who went downstairs even saw people jumping to
How They Reacted: Almost everybody in the office suffered some kind of
post-traumatic stress disorder, and Ortenberg brought in grief
counselors and allowed employees extra days. He estimated that it
wasn’t until April or May when the charge in the air had subsided.
Where They Are Now: The publisher had a successful year despite the
tragedy, and in the spring it became independent from corporate cousin
PGW after AMS bought the Berkeley distributor. Ortenberg said the
atmosphere has mostly returned to normal, but loss and fear still
hovers. “I think it’s still here. It’s just something that floats in
What They Faced: Publisher Beau Friedlander tells a story now
familiar to many: on the morning of September 11 he emerged from the
subway on his way to work to see a plume of smoke rising and people
running toward him. What happened to him over the next few days was
hardly typical. He was able to get telephone and Internet service
(from his laptop) only on nearby Franklin Street, But an overanxious
neighbor spotted him and called the cops about the “Middle
Eastern-looking man typing on a laptop,” Friedlander recalls with only
half a chuckle. He had telecommunication problems as well. Because his
company was a little further from the financial center, it took three
months before phone service was restored. Some of Context’s winter
titles were delayed, and publicity and sales suffered through the end
How They Reacted: Soon after the attacks, Friedlander found himself in
a controversy over Holding Fire, a novel based on the lives of New
York firefighters that by coincidence he had released on September 11.
After landing some publicity, Friedlander went through what he
describes as a crisis of conscience and decided to halt publicity. (He
was also wary because a tabloid had reported that the family of a
firefighter who died in the attacks, on whom a character was based,
spoke out against the author.) “There was such a temptation then for
publishers to look for a hook,” he remembers. “But I felt that if this
was doing harm to even one person, we shouldn’t be promoting it.”
Where They Are Now: The tiny house continues its publishing of
literary fiction and nonfiction, often with a dark bent. But the
sights Friedlander witnessed outside his front door a year ago have
left their mark. This fall, Context is publishing a book opposing the
war on Iraq, a decision Friedlander attributes to what he saw. “I
believe that if we go ahead and attack Iraq, there will be a terrorist
event every day in a major city. This book is a direct response to