Just as ad agencies belong to Madison Avenue, and art galleries to Chelsea, book publishers and agents have historically been associated with midtown Manhattan. So two years ago, when David Black, a prominent book agent, moved to downtown Brooklyn, many in the industry were astonished.
But as the struggling publishing industry seeks to reinvent itself in an increasingly digital world, location may no longer be sacred. David Black and book publisher Daniel Power are among those who have crossed the East River to Brooklyn and even HarperCollins has announced plans to relocate their offices further south. The publishing giant will be vacating its midtown location in Spring 2014 in favor of 195 Broadway in lower Manhattan.
“That’s a big change, they were on 53rd street, so [being in midtown] is not as set-in-stone,” Black said.
Downtown Brooklyn continues to flourish, Black said, and he plans on keeping the agency in its current location permanently.
“The area around downtown Brooklyn is becoming more and more vibrant as a business community for people like myself,” he said. “My office is literally within a block of more subway lines than any building in New York City. You couldn’t find an office in Manhattan that close.”
Daniel Power established Powerhouse Books in 1995 and moved from Manhattan to the Dumbo section of Brooklyn in March 2006. He calls the move an “escape.”
“I already lived here, and was not necessarily looking to relocate our business here in 2006, but the price was right, the space was massive and beautiful, and it made me feel very inspired, and I went on to do great things here I think,” he said.
In addition, Power, 50, continues to grow his empire in Dumbo. Since the move, Power has created the Powerhouse Arena, a retail space where books are sold in a “European style” presentation – flat on tables, no shelves, no spines out.
Making the move to Brooklyn has not caused any difficulties for face-to-face meetings, he said.
“In fact it has made client meetings way easier,” Power said. In the Hudson Square area it took clients 20 to 40 minutes by cab; in a car service now it’s 10 to 20 minutes. We’re right off both bridges. And most artists, editors, content makers, and designers live in Brooklyn anyway. Only if you have to go meet an ad agency or old school designer do you have to go downtown or to Chelsea.“
For David Black, working in downtown Brooklyn feels a “half-step” away from what he would consider a stressful environment in Manhattan. Paying enormous rents in a world where the revenue stream is changing can take its toll, but even some of the biggest publishers in the industry are not completely set in their ways. Black believes that the world of publishing is going through a sea change. “There is a lot of concern for the future,” he said.
“There is now a major shift to digital publishing,” said Laura Langlie, a literary agent who launched her own agency in 2001 and works from her home in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.
Langlie doesn’t believe that books will disappear anytime soon, but the popularity of e-readers has caused a considerable upheaval at the major houses in New York.
“They’re not making as much money as they used to, and that’s affected authors and their agents in many ways,” Langlie added. “A number of agents have moved their offices or home offices to Brooklyn in the last few years, in order to save on overhead.”
Rachel Deahl, senior news editor of Publisher’s Weekly, said that a number of Brooklyn-based literary agencies are one-person operations.
“This certainly isn’t always the case,” she said, “but I think you’ll find that agents who live in Brooklyn, and left larger agencies in Manhattan to go solo, are now professionally based out of their home borough.”
Brooklyn has also become more expensive, making it more of a challenge to keep business going in the trendier areas such as Dumbo.
But Power said that creative people will always find a way to work where they feel most inspired. Power just completed an experiment in South Slope – a small bookshop on Eighth Ave between 11th and 12th streets, to see if the area could support something he calls ambitious. So far, a bookstore appears to be working. “So yes, you can find alternative spaces in untraditional places, and make a destination out of it,” he said.
And with increased popularity comes increased cost.
“I think people are moving to less popular neighborhoods of Brooklyn to find more reasonable rents. And some are moving out entirely, as they can’t afford to live here any longer,” Langlie said.
As for David Black, he said he’s delighted to work in downtown Brooklyn and close to his living quarters. “When I say I’m home in ten minutes, I’m home in ten minutes.”