Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Yikes!

This article can be found on AWP:

http://www.pw.org/content/major_publisher_puts_book_acquisitions_hold

The article says that the directive to stop acquiring only affects the "publisher's trade and reference divisions" -- maybe schools are facing budget cuts and not purchasing reference books as much...

Any thoughts?

15 comments:

Eduardo Gabrieloff said...

I work for a medical association. One of our departments is actually a text-book manufacturer, and we have been worried about orders from university and college bookstores decreasing. Apparently, these bookstores are finally taking into account online and used sales, meaning they are ordering much less than even last year.

My association hasn't been hit quite yet, but apparently, text-book publishers are not too happy at the moment.

JDE said...

Well, it's certainly not the best way to keep your ear to the ground to catch new talent. I doubt much will come of this though.

In truth, I think young writers should start imagining different scenarios than the traditional, write-a-book-find-an-agent-publish-to-a-big-name-house track. Small houses could possibly more nimble. Publishing your own work online is a way to gain readership (even if payment may be further behind). Check out my series at www.jonathandozierezell.com to see what I mean.

Events like these show how unwilling pub houses are to change with the times. Maybe they need to be left behind.

jeannine said...

Yes, it's a rather sinister sign of the times in publishing.
But then again, the presses I'm most interested in - poetry and independent presses - tend to run on a shoestring in good times AND bad. Perhaps people will turn to these presses with their $$ instead of big presses that don't support new authors...

Vince said...

hmmmph...maybe its just another precaution or sign of a withering economy. the economic landscape's mudslides are probably going to have an impact on all industries--this just happens to have an impact on something we worry about as writers and teachers.

sara e.g. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sara e.g. said...

And also for those working in most publishing-related fields...

In the year of the great magazine/pub house die-off, I know leaving the industry for an MFA means I may not be able to step back into it after. I'm currently one of the very fortunate ones who still has a job, though I have more than a few friends in the industry who are drinking away their publishing/editing woes in bars across the northeast.

This is a VERY scary time for anyone looking for any kind of lucrative activity from the publishing business. It's simply not happening. Companies are not hiring, and anyone trying to get into publishing will be up against professionals who have been laid off after decades in the business. It's a fact. My department is rather small (and young) and two editors plan on leaving this year (I'm one of them). We've already been told we will not be replaced, and I suspect in a year or so the department may no longer exist.

Sad, but true. Looking on the bright-side, publishing will bounce back. It will just take time--and mass amounts of liquor for those involved in its depressing death/hiatus.

Lizzy said...

I also left a job in publishing for a place in an MFA program.

What I hear from the friends--freelancers and full-timers alike--I still have in the industry is that work is scarcer everyday.

I don't know what's ahead. Suffice it to say those of us still hoping to work in publishing in some capacity do hope it bounces back. Publishing's been undergoing changing pains since the dawn of the internet. People will always want to read, I think. But the industry has to get more creative with and less spooked by the challenges facing it. I think the times call for a re-invention of publishing as we've known it. Academia may be able to help by helping theorize a vision of what it means to publish in the electronic age.

We'll see.

JDE said...

I absolutely agree with what Lizzy says about publishing needing to reinvent itself. We should be excited and thrilled by these changes instead of being scared by them. I am less certain that academia can theorize a way out of this, however. The industry needs to focus on reconnecting to the average reader, not necessarily the highly/over educated, academic one. This isn't a matter of snobbery or anything like that. Merely a numbers game.

sara e.g. said...

I agree--like in any tough situation, this is a great opportunity for publishing to reinvent itself and move in some really interesting directions. That said, you will be hard pressed to find anyone working in publishing who is "thrilled" about these changes. It's a matter of livelihood, and it is certainly very real and very scary for those who depend on the industry to live.

Nic D. said...

I'll admit, I know nothing about publishing. But as a 21-yr old student walking into a bookstore? I am not going to spend $30 on David Sedaris' brand new book of essays. The used thrift shops have become my best friend. That's just ridiculous...

#1) you can download it ten bucks cheaper on iTunes

#2) you can wait 6 months and get it for $20 on paperback or Ebay

#3) That's almost a 1/4 of my grocery money. for the month. Add another $30 bucks and that's a full-day price ticket to Disney World. I mean, it just doesn't make sense to charge so much for one book.

I can understand why publishing is having a rough time right now when you're charging that to "average Americans" walking through the door. It's a lot to ask.

sara e.g. said...

Nic D.--

Hardcover books (new releases) will always cost "too much." It's a matter of inflation (hardcover books this year are as "expensive" for "average Americans" as they were in 1970's.) The reason they've always been rather pricey is due to the relatively high cost of overhead (paying the editors, publicity departments, etc), the rising cost of paper--particularly for hardcover, the author's cut, the size of the print run, etc. Tack on the cost of shipping and production (which is rising by the day in this economy) and hardcover books warrant being more expensive than paperbacks.

The industry is not failing because of the cost of books. The industry has been failing for a while. With the economy in shambles, they're being hit particularly hard now, but this death has been a slow one. In the same way that newspapers took a dive in the past few years, book publishing has been suffering for a while from the incredible development of technology. And yes, they're going to have to get even more on board with creations like Kindle or the Sony Reader, however much that realization pains me.

I work in educational publishing. Just in the past year I've seen over a third of our publications go online. It's just not profitable to work entirely in print anymore (unless it's a small press with relatively small print runs--they are seriously going to be the future, which I'm glad about.)

We'll just have to wait and see where this takes us.

Mike Valente said...

It's not that publishing is unable to connect to the average reader. Most of what they publish is commercial fiction that gets distributed to the masses (me). I loved Jurassic Park and Angels and Demons, and I'm not afraid to admit that. That's how most houses make their money, by commercial fiction that is easily accessible.

They leave it up to their imprints to publish literary works, most of which lose money. I read recently that Philip Roth's latest novel only sold 75,000 copies.

I do think that the price of a hardcover book is expensive, but marketing and editorial fees go into that cost. But most books that get published fail and lose money, so they rely on their big hitters to do well on the shelves.

Mike Valente said...

I also like The Devil Wears Prada, and I thought that the movie was outstanding.

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