It’s Not Easy Being Beige

Here comes the New Year like a freight train. We are moving into new offices and are sending out the attached letter to our authors, friends and associates (and even to a few nudniks and adversaries), explaining why we moved and that it means more than just a physical move. You can read it at:

A-List Media Group Letter

It’s got a new logo for something we are calling “A-List Media Group” and an explanation of what that’s all about. It’s our attempt (actually our commitment to MAKING an attempt) to change the way we develop and produce books. Read it and feel free to tell me what you think.

The people who will be in the office with us–the people of IideaGroup–have been as fussy about the details of the office as I ever could have imagined anyone could be. The floor is going to be a very particular kind of copper-pumpkin color with copper metallic flecks. It’s really quite nice and eye-cathching, but then the question came up: what should the walls be? They had to be just the right matching shade and I was amazed at how earnest and concerned they were about this. There was point in the exasperation when I shrugged and smiled, and said, “What’s the difference? What’s the big deal if the floor looks a certain way or the walls are colored a very particular shade of beige to match?”

The mastermind of that operation, Jo-Anne, looked at me and said, “Aren’t you interested in changing? In making your company more than a musty producer of books nobody wants anymore? isn’t that what all this is about?” It was a poignant moment that got lost in the frantic activity of the day, but I thought about that exchange for good long while.

When I was questioning the very idea of getting rid of that large portion of the books, I ranted that many of those books were “irreplacable” and thus “priceless.” “Oh yeah?” my wife and son, Ilana and Dan, said, “Give us twenty books you think you’ll NEVER be able to get again and let’s see just how ‘unfindable’ and ‘priceless’ they are!” So I gave them my list of twenty and they went on-line to abebooks.com and bibliofind (which is Amazon’s used book service) and looked for them.

Not only did they find them all—lots of copies—there were none that cost more than $10 and most were a dollar or less; a few were a penny plus the $3.99 for shipping. Some treasures! So I unloaded that baggage easily. What this experiment has to say about the value of books—the financial value, I mean—is jarring to anyone who has a large library, but one thing is clear, for the most part, the days of rummaging in old used book stores (assuming there still are such things) and looking for books I MIGHT one day need—those days are over.

What I’m doing is, I think, very difficult for a conservative, pretty even-tempered guy like me—a person whose moonstone color is beige: changing something when things were very comfortable the old way I was doing things for a good long time, even though I’ve known for long time that they didn’t work very well. So in the process of moving, I gave up about half the library of books in the office (about 8,000 books! But remember—that was only half the books in the office!); got rid of files and furniture that seemed like they were from the turn of two centuries ago, and set up operations in a very (what I imagine to be) current and cutting edge way.

It’s the attempt of someone who is beige to become a different color–or at least to add a shade to the beige that can pick up the flamboyant color of something in the vicinity. When you’re beige, your stuck—there isn’t a whole lot you can do and if a change or an alteration is necessary, there you are in beige and where do you go from there? When you’re beige, you can’t reach out a grab hold of anything that can whisk you away from the muddy quagmire and tar-pit you’re stuck in—even when it is within reach. When you’re beige, you go with a lot of different things, which means you don’t go with anything. Bill Maher once pointed out that when something is publicized as “fun for the whole family,” that means you can be sure it’s fun for no one.

I’m not ready for a Harley or a Mohawk (both old-fashioned symbols of what people going through a mid-life crisis do to signify their attempt at being contemporary, only I’m so far from that that even my clichés are cliché.) But here goes painting my world that shade of beige that has the hint of the colors of the “wild and crazy” way we are going to be doing business. I just hope someone slaps me if I wind up looking like Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd playing those “wild and crazy” Czechoslovakian Festrunk brothers.

I wonder if Harleys come in beige.

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