Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Publishers Lunch calls it "Black Wednesday"

Normally we are a happy blog, and we have been ignoring all the things that are happening in publishing right now. I pointedly haven't been trying to compete with the many (and better) publishing industry news blogs out there in keeping up with the layoffs, reformatting, and gloom. But it's a little artificial for me to be ignoring it here completely, and also a little unfair to people who come here first.

Briefly, for some of today's news--and this is today's news only:
Random House parcels out Doubleday and Bantam Dell groups (complete with personnel changes, including, most likely, the resignation of their top executives) (also here)

Thomas Nelson lays of 10% of its team--here, Michael Hyatt cites the terrible results of the Sept/Oct cash flow, which you'll recall we talked a lot about here

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt lets the other shoe drop from their acquisitions freeze of last week--some layoffs already and talk of many, many more to come

Simon & Schuster eliminates at least 35 positions (Children's president Rick Richter has resigned) (via Publishers Lunch--unfortunately I don't have a public link I can attach, but I'm sure GalleyCat will cover this shortly)

So I don't have much to say, except that a lot of things are going to change this year, and I suspect it will be the kind of change in publishing that hasn't occured in our lifetimes. There was much talk of the freeze on Houghton Mifflin Harcourt acquisitions last week, mainly (as I was following it) about how it would affect authors and a new writer's chance of selling a book right now. But on our end, sitting nervously on our thumbs inside our publishing houses, the freeze was even scarier. Without acquisitions and new products, there is no future billing. We saw a company that was basically declaring they were in such a desperate place that they needed to give up the potential of any incoming billing in the next little while--a very, very frightening business decision, more frightening to us because the company seemed forced to make it public.

But specifically, I am worried about my friends across the industry, and about what we'll be when we get out of this. I have already watched several good friends be summarily told their services were no longer required or that their positions were being discontinued. I can't believe I'm the only person at a house right now whose heart starts pounding crazily everytime I get a new Publishers Lunch update in my mailbox or Mediabistro post in my Google feed.

I know we have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about some of the flaws in the institution of publishing, and I am hoping desperately that these sorry changeovers--which will, of course, hit some people who deserve to have much better--will not make the current structural problems even worse.

I could go on and on, but I don't think there's much of a point. Others have said it all much better. Please do, though, consult those better news sources if you are interested in more information. Maud Newton, for example, is a fine source of news and smart opinion; you can read her essay on what it all means here. Also, please read GalleyCat, a faithful source of first news about everything, if you're interested in the blow-by-blow.


peggy said...

And I felt sorry for me..shame on me. My poor publisher also folded..too many returns. I'll cross my fingers for your end. But the mighty Moonrat will always prevail! Great info, thanks for sharing the scarey and the good. Maybe 2009 will make a turn around, wierder things have happened. I'll go buy more books!

moonrat said...

you go, peggy!!! you're saving the world!

angelle said...

just read that same publisher's lunch in my inbox. wtf?

i was having a discussion with f the other day about the future of the publishing industry. of which, of course, he knows verylittle bit about, but was speculating given technology and economy. i'm wondering - will the industry have to change the way it handles acquisitions and how it goes about pushing books out? what will this all mean? enlighten me, my moonie friend! should i crawl back to PR now (although they dont really have much going on for them either - PR is not valued and thus the first to get axed for any marketing plan)

Whirlochre said...

There's going to be much squishing of entrails between the fingers of many a mighty fist thanks to "the downturn", but at least, this time, there seems to be an acknowledgement that we all had a hand in it — that the fictional shibboleth of "the market" is, in fact, us.

All each of us can do in the mean time is endeavour not to be swept along by the gloom. 2009, for good or for ill, has to happen somehow.

Justus M. Bowman said...

"I have already watched several good friends be summarily told their services were no longer required or that their positions were being discontinued."

That's too bad. It is difficult on this end as I attempt to break into the industry, but I'm guessing it is worse to lose a position you already hold.

Conduit said...

I don't think there's any area of commerce in the world that won' come out of this recession unscathed. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that nothing comes along to sink my particular ship just as it's come in.

I also hope all those people who work in publishing for love rather than money, and consequently make very little of it, don't have to pay for the greed of others. And Moonrat, you better still be working in NY when I come and visit in March!

Kristin Dodge said...

Hang in there, moonie. I still feel that there will be a huge turnaround. I know that I'm buying books for gifts this year... cheap and an oh-so wonderful escape from reality.

However, I think this will change the acquisition market. Feel good books, like romances, will be hits, while horror (aren't we scared enough?) won't sell as well. And forget about liter-ahry. Just my opinion, and even so it completely threw me into major depression territory.

Angelle... I hear you about PR. Being on the chopping block too often pushed me into teaching and writing. Not that those professions are guaranteed, either.

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

One good thing about being an unemployed (or "self-employed") writer is that you can't get fired -- not exactly, anyway. (Though we can be ignored, and rejected.)

Moonrat, I don't envy you and others in NY publishing, dreading each new email or meeting. I hope the storm passes your particular house and that future reorganizations are for the good of us all. In the short-term, this all just sucks.

As for the newer authors who visit this blog regularly, with forthcoming books already in the pipeline -- as long as the books can get to the stores, the rest of us will do everything we can to buy them.

Miriam S.Forster said...

Booo.... I know how you feel, Moonrat.

In April I worked in a hospital. I got married, went on a honeymoon and came back. The day I came back was the same day that the newspaper announced my hospital was laying off people. I had four patients ask me about it before I heard about it from any of the staff. I spent the entire day in fear and trembling.

Hang in there. We're all pulling for you.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Does it help to know it's not just the publishing world? I work for a big hospital that just months ago, felt good about it's financial position. This week, we've been notified there is an immediate hiring freeze, pay freeze, and layoffs are coming. My husband works for a well known sports and fitness company. Same thing, just this week.

Meanwhile, my stack of books keeps getting bigger and bigger. I'll read rather than watch the gloomy news any day.

Hang in there Moonie. :)

Carleen Brice said...

Holy sh#*! I've been lost in my own little world today and when I pop my head up I'm not sure I want to come out. Oh this is scary! Good luck to all of us!

Charles Gramlich said...

The small press is suffering too.

H. L. Dyer said...

Yikes. My heart goes out to everyone who is hurting... in publishing and everywhere else.

The dust has to settle eventually. We will still need books.

I'm just going to keep saying that over and over again.

And buying books, of course. ;)

Nancy High said...

Thanks for the post, Moonrat. I'm going to hold on to the hope that things will change in 2009 too. The industry will change, I'm sure--but hopefully it will be stronger in the longrun. In the meantime, we'll revel in this amazing online community we have.

Kim Kasch said...

What a sad state of affairs - for everyone.

Lisa S. is right - the economy is hitting everyone.

Colorado Writer said...
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Ann Victor said...
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Ann Victor said...

Moonrat, please don't be sad or scared!

Try to look on these times like pruning a fruit tree: sometimes we have to prune harshly, but then the new growth that inevitably follows brings with it fruit that is sweeter and juicer. And the new growth WILL come (it might take time, but it WILL come!!) We will survive this!

Sending many positive thoughts to your friends who have been affected and hoping great new opportunities arise for them out of the shadows of disaster!

Doing my bit to save the book world (if not the trees!): bought 5 paper books yesterday (2 non-fiction, 3 fiction) and, although it's early here in South Africa, I've already bought 2 books on-line. Now, who's going to save me from the piles of books that are steadily growing and taking over my house...?

Usman said...

In our company, we've had a freeze on annual incentives and pay hikes since July. Since I am responsible for much of the operational decisions, I have to decide about lay-offs. I've shied away from that. But boy, am I scared.

Ebony McKenna. said...

I'm buying books. Everyone's getting books for Christmas. Sure, some of them are from the cheapy table, but others are full-price retail.

It's a scary time!

Kate Lord Brown said...

I have a meeting with my agent next week and I'm curious to see what she says.

I'm feeling more determined than ever to make a success of this (new author, submitting to publishers etc). Times like this people NEED books.

Anonymous said...

Encourage your friends to buy books. Ask for books. Go on blogs and websites and suggest books.

Maree A. said...

This following article from agent Richard Curtis makes an interesting read...

BTW, the full title is Behind Publishing's Wednesday of the Long Knives.