Bad Time for Book Lovers — and Editors, Designers, Publicists...

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I've been saving links for nearly two weeks now for this post — since December 3, when the publishing industry, by all accounts, imploded. Dramatically.

I suppose that for some people, considering the fate of the publishing houses, most of which are in New York, seem monolithic and don't generally rate everyday discussion, seems slightly ... esoteric? Pointless, when so much else is going wrong? Old-fashioned, when there's print on demand and plenty of small presses? But I believe in publishing in a way that I don't believe in, say, major record labels or monstrous (in size, not necessarily mentality) Hollywood studios. This is due to two things: One, I've always been a reader. I'm an only child who would get up before my parents, get down a packet of graham crackers and curl up with Tintin books as soon as I could read. I put (made up) Dewey decimal numbers on my books with masking tape and read Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain too many times. And two, I used to work in publishing. I'm attached to what goes on there, both as a book-lover of the highest degree and as someone who used to be in the system. I'm particularly concerned about what goes on in the world of kids' and young adult books — a smaller, more specific world that's hurting in its own way.

So it's been difficult, to say the least, to take in what's happened recently. A rundown of some lowlights: Read more. Please.

Nov. 25
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stops buying new books. Industry folk react here.

Dec. 2
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publisher resigns.

Dec. 3
More HMH troubles: Executive editor Ann Patty informed us this morning that she has been "fired," along with an unspecified number ("a lot") of other employees.

Publishers Weekly reports, "Simon & Schuster announced today that it has eliminated 35 positions." This included the head of the children's group and its senior VP and publisher.

The New York Times discusses the S&S job cuts as well as the major restructuring of Random House.

The Observer has more on the Random House rearrangement, including the letter from Random's chairman, Markus Dohle.

Dec. 4
Publishers Weekly: Penguin Freezes Raises for Those Above $50,000

HarperCollins also has a pay freeze.

Dec. 5
More news from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Dec. 10
Chronicle Books cuts "under 5%" of its staff.

Macmillan, like Penguin, freezes pay for anyone making more than $50,000.

Dec. 14
"Macmillan Publishing has eliminated 64 positions ... As part of the restructuring, the company is forming a new unified children’s publishing division that will bring all of its imprints under one umbrella."

Dec. 15
Layoffs at Macmillan, reports The New York Observer, "include head of production Tom Consiglio and the editor Denise Oswald, who primarily acquired books on music and pop culture for FSG's Faber & Faber imprint." (I'm a fan of Oswald, who I ran into at the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle and whose recent books, if I'm not mistaken, include How Sassy Changed My Life and Amanda Petrusich's It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music, one of the only nonfiction books to make me tear up a scrap of paper so I had something with which to mark the most gorgeous passages. And I'm only about 20 pages in.)

Dec. 16
Publishers Weekly has more detail about the cuts and restructuring at Macmillan, which include the associate publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, Michael Eisenberg.

The New York Observer offers more detail on the FSG layoffs, earlier layoffs in the industry and what will become of those laid off.

And it's not just publishing houses, of course. The AP is reporting that "Powell's Books is asking employees to scale back their hours or take sabbaticals to cope with disappointing sales." Powell's. How do you think things are faring with Smith Family, J. Michael's, the UO Bookstore, Tsunami, Black Sun?

There will be more news like this. More cuts, more pay freezes, more closing bookstores. It's the economy, stupid — of course. And everyone's going to have a pet concern within the greater economic disaster. This is mine. It's about the books; it's about the people; it's about the history and the importance of books in our culture.

Why am I telling you this? So you'll think about books. So you'll consider the books you loved when you were a kid, and the books you love now, and ask yourself whether those books could make it to the bookstore in a shrinking, consolidating industry. Yes, the publishing world has its flaws. Yes, there are changes to make. (I vote for acquiring less mediocre-at-best books, folks: My review copies shelves are overflowing with mediocrity! Buy fewer, better books for smaller advances!) Yes, small presses are going to play a bigger part one of these days. But for book people, well, we want it all — and that all includes the names we've come to trust. We want the reliable literary fiction of FSG (from its adult and YA departments); we want to keep on believing that a Vintage paperback is almost always worth picking up; we want to be sure that the people keeping their jobs at publishing houses are the ones who believe in making a book the very best it can be before it hits shelves.

I have a lot more on my mind about this, but it's still muddled; this is just the beginning. I'll try to post in a more timely fashion as more news crops up, and with more specific commentary.

Of course, I'll hope there's not a lot more bad news. But I'm not holding my breath.

--------

Over the next week and change, I'll be posting lists of suggested gift books — pulled from both my reading over the year and from my ongoing mental list of books what look cool — as a sort of supplement to Winter Reading. This downer of a post is, er, sort of an introduction to these upcoming lists. And stuff. Hey, how about a little good news? Suzi nabbed this from Facebook: "Starting right now, through Dec. 26th, purchase an eGift card for your favorite biblio, and Powell's will credit an additional 15% of the gift amount into YOUR account. That's right. We're rewarding you for your gift-giving shortcomings, while making you appear brilliant and thoughtful at the same time. And eco-conscious to boot!"

the long slow agonizing death of books

i love books. i'm an aspiring writer, and i've grown up reading books like my religion.

but the fact is, the book is on its way out. should we really mourn it?

to fully appreciate the role books--especially in their greatest form, the novel--have played in society, let's take a look back at what first spawned the proliferation of books in the first place. thanks to guttenberg and his printing press (at least for us in the west--china had books much earlier) books became cheaply and widely available to the masses. knowledge was taken out of the hands of the church, and became available to anyone who could read. society was revolutionized. stories had once been passed down orally, resulting in greek epic, beowulf and fairy tales. but with the technology of mass publishing came the novel as an art form.

now, we are in the process of a new revolution. books are giving way to digital media. i do not view this transformation as good or bad. just inevitable.

and worry not. books may be on their way out, but story telling as form both of art and entertainment will endure. a wikirose by any other name will still smell as sweet. depending on the veracity of the contributor of course.

Submitted by the good doctor (not verified) on Wed, 12/17/2008 - 04:35.
With technology and the

With technology and the change to the digital world, books are becoming even more valuable. It's sad to see all of the big newspapers shut their doors because they cannot compete with the digital revolution. With no local newspapers, who is going to report the story about the local troubled kids who break into parked cars to steal CD's. Many of the important local stories will be lost in the shuffle of news feeds that change every minute with new breaking news.

Submitted by Fishman (not verified) on Fri, 06/19/2009 - 11:48.

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