Inner Traditions Speaks Out for the Printed Book

Jon Graham, Acquisitions Editor at Inner Traditions, wrote an essay for the company website, inspired by a speech he heard at the Frankfurt Book Fair about e-books "and the pending demise of the publishing industry as we know it." "(The speaker) made the remark that convenience trumps content every time," says Graham. "I felt the remark was double-edged as there is a legitimate question — which is truly more convenient — the electronic book or the traditional paper construction. Unlike music or video recordings, which require a device to read them, the traditional book requires no mediating instrument. The fact of using an electronic book reader could in fact be regarded as complicating a fairly simple and effective relationship—one that has endured for centuries. Or, to put it another way, it could be compared to adopting a prosthetic device in circumstances that do not truly warrant it. "Unlike other media, which delivers information in ways that would be impossible without modern electronic technology, the way we read a book, whether directly from the page or on a screen, fundamentally remains the same. The viewer’s passive participation will not be rewarded (as it can be when listening to music recordings or watching video recordings) if he or she does not make the same effort of will required to read the traditional format book. Words on a screen do not have any superior qualities to those on the printed page. If anything, the screen may provide a more problematic delivery system for the traditional narrative format, forcing readers to become accustomed for a break in the flow every time a new page has to load in. "As Lucien X. Polastron notes in The Great Digitization and the Quest to Know Everything (Inner Traditions, March 2009), 'when you hold a book in your hands, your left hand is holding the past, your right hand is holding the future, and your eyes are resting on the present.' "The power of reading and the seductive appeal of books is this: the reader is offered the opportunity to embody what was initially wholly existent in the imagination of another human being. It is given rhythm by the almost instinctive movement of turning the page. The book as object has an appeal in its own right, which the electronically emitted text has yet to emulate. I read on screen for work—for pleasure I turn to the old-fashioned book made of paper, board, and ink. Raymond Chandler once said that people are attracted to reading because it provides a break from the deadly rhythms of their own thoughts, something he defined as a 'functional necessity.'” "The e-book, for me, makes that escape more problematic—in fact I find it encourages a kind of attention deficit disorder that makes impossible the kind of dream-like state that occurs when you sink into 'what lies behind the printed page' of a book whose author has totally captivated you." See the entire essay and other staff members' blogs at


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Inner Traditions

Prospering While Preserving Editorial Integrity

It's a rare publisher that starts out as groundbreaking and stays that way. In the midst of on-going industry upheaval, Inner Traditions, founded and still owned and operated by publisher Ehud Sperling, celebrates its 35th anniversary by continuing its traditions.

That's not as common in publishing -- among independent or the major houses -- as many authors, editors, booksellers, librarians, critics, and even some publishers would like it to be. As a serious publisher of books about indigenous cultures, perennial philosophy, visionary art, ancient mysteries, the spiritual traditions of the East and West, and holistic health and healing, Inner Traditions' 11 imprints publish a huge roster of authors, including heavy hitters Zecharia Sitchin, Margaret Starbird, Alfred Huang, Ryuho Okawa, Terence McKenna, Ralph Abraham, Barbara Hand Clow, Nicki Scully, Alex Grey, Patch Adams, M.D., and Jose Arguelles.

(Ehud Sperling with author John Perkins)

I spoke with publisher Ehud Sperling to find out how Inner Traditions has managed to prosper while preserving the creative and intellectual integrity of its books within an industry that has come to value platform over quality. Turns out it was obvious. Let this be a lesson to other publishers who think it can't be done.

IP: When philosophical and metaphysical books became popular in the mainstream back in the '90s, other publishers took that as a cue to overly simplify, even dumb-down these subjects in their books, thinking this would bring more readers. You never did that at Inner Traditions. Your books reflect serious scholarship. And you haven't been lumped in with the watered-down, often silly books that have come to be known as the New Age market. Did you feel pressure to do what so many other publishers did and continue to do?

ES: We are the market for our books. I'm also the reader. I had a grounding in contemporary literature and antiquarian books, and I came to this with a physics and science background. We're also particularly proud of our reforestation project. That's who we are as well. We're a traditional publisher. If you look at the history of publishing, you need to have publishers in charge of publishing. If you have accountants in charge, it doesn't work very well. Books are like people: they have their own destiny, they unfold in their own way. You should have a passion for what you publish. Publishing companies were started by people who had a passion for a subject or subjects. You also have to have a good dose of luck. We feel very fortunate our company has prospered given the approach we take.

IP: You know there's a market of intelligent readers, and you focus on that market.

ES: When you try to reach readers, you have to have a sense of what they want, what they need. Seeding their imagination. We plant the seed. How it unfolds and grows is a function of the soil it's planted in. We're involved in Perennial Philosophy, the search for meaning. We're suspended between two mysteries, where we came from and where we're going.

IP: While other publishers have converted to deciding whether to publish an author based on an author's so-called platform, because you have a passion for the subject matter you continue to base your decisions on the author's knowledge and the quality of the book.

ES: Most publishers started out that way. But what's different is that we're in the age of mercantilism, and it's mercantile values that rule now. The world view of the merchant drives publishers. What needs to drive them are ideas. We're really in the idea business. Compelling ideas that feed people. We've stayed with that model and fortunately we're succeeding.

IP: What are you doing to adapt to the enormous changes in publishing?

ES: We're facing one of the most challenging environments I've seen in 35 years. The landscape is changing before our eyes. Publishers have to adapt to the changing environment. We're reaching out in a number of ways. The internet is an egalitarian environment, but it takes a lot of time. We launched our e-book program. We network with like-minded people, so our advertising dollars are with places that pay attention to what we do. We're doing more and more consumer shows: book fairs, specialized shows, the green festivals, conscious living festivals, and book festivals.

IP: What do you think about these experiences?

ES: It's invigorating for us to interact with our readers at book fairs, and through Facebook and Twitter. And all that takes a tremendous amount of time, ironically. We've had to hire people to help deal with all this electronic media!

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A 35-Year Legacy Launched back in 1975 in a small office in New York City, Inner Traditions/Bear & Company now has 11 imprints and more than 1,200 titles in print. The company is considered one of the largest and oldest independent publishing houses in the world devoted exclusively to the subjects of spirituality, esotericism, and alternative health and healing.

Read more about the company history.

Here are some recently released titles:

Ecomysticism: The Profound Experience of Nature as Spiritual Guide by Carl von Essen, M.D.

Author Carl von Essen explores nature mysticism through the recorded experiences of outdoor enthusiasts as well as scientific studies in biology, psychology, and neuroscience, citing consciousness scholar William James and a variety of well-known nature lovers such as Ansel Adams, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. ISBN-13: 978-1-59143-118-3 ISBN: 1-59143-118-2 288 page paperback; $18.00 (October 2010) Imprint: Bear & Company

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High Society: The Central Role of Mind-Altering Drugs in History, Science, and Culture by Mike Jay

Exploring the spectrum of drug use throughout history -- from its roots in animal intoxication to its future in designer neurochemicals – author Jay paints vivid portraits of the roles drugs play in different cultures as medicines, religious sacraments, status symbols, and coveted trade goods. ISBN-13: 978-1-59477-393-8 ISBN: 1-59477-393-9 192 page paperback; $19.95 (October 2010) Imprint: Park Street Press

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The Subtle Energy Body: The Complete Guide by Maureen Lockhart, Ph.D.

Ancient traditions of both the East and West have long maintained that the human being is a complex of material and nonmaterial systems, or energy bodies. The “subtle body” is an energetic, psychospiritual entity of several layers of increasing subtlety and metaphysical significance through which the aspirant seeks knowledge of the self and the nature of God. In many traditions, the component parts of the subtle body serve as a map of the different levels of consciousness. ISBN-13: 978-1-59477-339-6 ISBN: 1-59477-339-4 416 page paperback; $29.95 (September 2010) Imprint: Inner Traditions

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See our article, Groundbreaking Indie Book: Moonrise, featuring another Inner Traditions title, Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading from the Heart, an October 2010 release from the Park Street Press imprint. The book's editor is Nina Simons, co-CEO and co-founder of the Bioneers.

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As a journalist, columnist, essayist, and media critic, Nina L. Diamond's work has appeared in many publications, including Omni magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald. She was a regular contributor to a number of "late, great" national, regional, and newspaper Sunday magazines, including Omni; the award-winning South Florida magazine; and Sunshine, the Ft. Lauderdale (now South Florida) Sun-Sentinel's Sunday magazine. She covers the arts and sciences; the media, publishing, and current affairs; and writes feature articles, interviews, commentary, humor/satire/parody, essays, and reviews. Ms. Diamond is also the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers (Lotus Press) and the unfortunately titled Purify Your Body (Three Rivers Press/Crown/Random House) , a book of natural health reporting which has been a selection of The Book-of-the-Month Club's One Spirit Book Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club. For its entire run from 1984-1998, she was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, which aired on WLRN-FM in Miami. She has appeared on Oprah, discussing the publishing industry, but, in a case of very bad timing, that appearance was two years before her first book was published. She has written her Much Ado About Publishing column for Independent Publisher since 2003. * * * * * Follow Nina on Twitter: Become a "fan" on Nina's Facebook page: