My goal is to persuade the University of Illinois Press (UIP) to publish a paperback edition of my book: Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City. To achieve that, I have to sell about 750 hardcover copies by the end of the summer. We’ve sold more than 3,500 hardcover copies of Air Castle, and I’m grateful for every one. But about 1,000 remain, and UIP’s position is if they published a paperback now at a lower price (a much fairer price point to my mind) the remaining hardcovers would languish in the warehouse forever.
Unfortunately, UIP’s solution, constructive though it may be, is not cool, in my estimation. They’re planning to strip the covers off the books they have and re-jacket them with a paper cover. This is standard practice I suppose, but I don’t want it to happen to Air Castle. And furthermore, it doesn’t provide a chance to update or revise the book or get it in a format that will be easily accessible to students, newcomers to Nashville or regular folks out there who would like to know more about this special city and its relationship with WSM that made it what it is today.
I have nothing but respect for U of I Press. Being published as part of its Music In American Life series is one of the great honors of my life. I also understand it’s a low margin business in tough times for publishing, and I’m not trying to start a battle. I’m trying to get you and your friends to send a message to them that there’s a market for this book.
So I’m hoping you and your friends can do one (or more) of the following:
3. Buy a signed copy at the gift shop at Music City Roots for just $20.
You’re only really supposed to flog your book when it’s new, but I think the story told in Air Castle is even more relevant today than it was three years ago. WSM – and the Opry - will be 85 years old this October. And instead of coasting into the anniversary, the station was flooded on May 2 so deep only a scuba diver could have explored their offices and production studios. Instead of signing off to fix everything, engineer Jason Cooper and a bunch of our friends built a make-shift studio at dawn at the 1932 tower/transmitter building on Concord Road and went on broadcasting. The Grand Ole Opry, the longest running show in broadcasting, was also uprooted, probably for even longer.
There’s also the show I work on, Music City Roots: Live From The Loveless Café, which we hope is updating and reviving the tradition of broad-based music shows on WSM’s AM signal and for its 21st century update, the internet. The station and the Opry both turn 85 years old this October, and I think that’s a landmark in American life and culture worthy of loads of attention.
But even more important, the story of WSM and its many spun off businesses is packed with insights about how and why the music industry has lost its way and how it might find its way back. The station’s track record of rolling with the technological times, from clear channel AM radio to shortwave to FM to the internet, is a colorful case study of adaptability and leadership. We in the music business should all have a little bit of Harry Stone, Jack DeWitt, Marjorie Cooney and George D. Hay in us.