Peter Workman died on April 7th, at the age of 74. You never heard of him, but you probably bought some of his books, especially if you wanted to give a somewhat quirky gift to someone, like "Banana Grams" or "Origami on the Go" or "Cake Doctor." Workman Publishing specialized in "novelty" titles and had the good sense and marketing skills to turn B. Kliban, a quirky Playboy cartoonist, into a best-selling author via a book of whimsical and weird tabby cat drawings. Wisely, Workman did indeed market t-shirts…as well as sheets, mugs, desk calendars and even shower curtains based on Kliban's cartoons. But the merch was driven by a book first, and that's changing now.
Workman, married to the same woman for 50 years, a charitable man who worked with Human Rights Watch, the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League, may have died at the right time -- if a man's worth is tied to his accomplishments in his work. Because his work empire has peaked. The book world is going the way of the music biz. Bookstores are dying the way record shops did, and there's a cheapening of the product and a contempt for anyone trying to make a living at it. Ebooks will empty book shelves the way mp3's cleared out cabinets of CDs, and with less to manufacture or ship, more people will be out of work.
Scott Turow, the lawyer and best-selling author, recently wrote about "The Slow Death" of authors (and publishing) in a New York Times editorial. He underlined the "horrifying" problems and "menace" of Google, Amazon, piracy and the anti-copyright "crisis" caused by greed, self-entitlement and ignorance.
Turow ended with a report on what's happening in Russia: "I visited Moscow and met with a group of authors who described the sad fate of writing as a livelihood in Russia. There is only a handful of publishers left, while e-publishing is savaged by instantaneous piracy that goes almost completely unpoliced. As a result, in the country of Tolstoy and Chekhov, few Russians, let alone Westerners, can name a contemporary Russian author whose work regularly affects the national conversation." Don't get me started on how Putin and Russia are crippling the USA and UK by being SO nice to pirates and SUCH defebders of "Internet Freedom" by giving away ebooks, avi files and mp3s via torrents, forums and blogs. Putin offers a safe-haven for criminals operating in Croatia and any place where copyright and human rights can be violated, and what's going on is just as sick as the Mexican cartels that murder women and children and intimidate politicians and law enforcement so that idiots in America can get high. The Capitalist system which IS about free enterprise within copyright and respect for workers, is being destroyed by cartels who give access to illegal merchandise and are perceived as being so fucking cool. (End of rant).
For Workman Publishing to survive at all, they'll have to be more of a toy and game company, selling more 365-jokes-a-day calendars, and hope a new quirky cartoonist can parlay books into merch. But where will this stuff sell? Barnes & Noble, even by changing their bookstores into Starbucks-selling cafes, and offering their Nook, has shut down branches…frantic in trying to compete with Amazon and their Kindle.
I remember sending Peter Workman a book proposal, and to get his attention, including a photo of my cat (a tabby similar but not as fat as a Kliban cat) on a Kliban cat pillow case. I never did get a book published by Workman, but he sent a nice personal rejection letter.
To justify saying anything at all about Peter Workman on this music blog, there has to be an obligatory music download, and it's…"The Worker." I choose it to honor the Workman name, his indie publishing empire, and workers who read as they ride into town for a day at the office.
Lyrics: "…he hated journey on the train. Always been the same. Looking out windows. Second class and second best What a waste of time…The worker, the worker The worker, the worker. Always kiss the wife goodbye .Often wonder why. At seven in the morning…What a waste of time…" It's by short-lived but well-loved Fischer-Z, which was a quirky group that had a lead vocalist (John Watts) who seemed intent on singing in the highest, most hapless voice possible. A psych major, he infused his particular brand of pop-psych with a madness-dash of reggae as you can hear on this, the band's 1979 hit.
PETER WORKMAN THE WORKER