David R. Godine: Looking around at the scene in Boston, and especially at what seems to be happening at Houghton/Harcourt, I would say the scene is gloomy. But I suspect much f the problem there derives from the pressures coming from the Irish owners, and not from the sales of books per se. I very much doubt that with a backlist as strong as Houghton's and Harcourt's', not to mention the excellence of their respective children's divisions, that some formula could not be worked out for their survival. . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Allan Kornblum: Publishing is in a huge state of flux right now, but then again, it has continually changed since the days of the oral tradition. While the distant past may not be germane, we do have to go back to the middle years of the twentieth century. At that time, publishing was certainly a business, as it is today, but it was a business that had accepted a low rate of return on investment, in exchange for the thrill (and it is a thrill) of being part of the cultural life of the country, and indeed, the world. But in the 1980s and 1990s, bigger publishers began gobbling up smaller publishers, and then multinational corporations swallowed up the bigger publishers. Suddenly these houses needed to service the debt involved in buyouts, on top of the relatively modest six-to-eight percent return on investment that Bennett Cerf and Alfred Knopf had once been happy to receive. . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Margo Baldwin: It needs to reinvent itself: get rid of returns and huge advances and all the waste inherent in the system. Amazon has perfected the ordering to demand systems and other booksellers need to do the same. It’s no longer feasible to push lots of books out and then take them all back; way too wasteful. E-books and digital content will continue to grow, but will remain relatively small compared to printed books for awhile. Bricks and mortar stores will need to reinvent themselves into community activist centers with a mission in order to keep their customers. Chains will become less important except for the megahits and brand name authors. Backlist will continue to migrate to the internet. . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Richard Nash: There are several distinct things going on at once. The first is the macro-economic problem which is indeed giving cause for gloom as it has caused a serious drop on aggregate adult trade book sales, greater than any recession heretofore.
The second is the shift on what media consumers purchase, and how they consume it, occurring for books, music, television and film—because it is the smallest of those industries, and because its technology—the printed book—was the most robust and fine-tuned of the analog technologies, it is only know we’re starting to see the impact. And the impact is currently less on the industry itself; it’s more that the cumulative effect of the changes from other industries, chiefly the amount of content consumed online, is drawing people away from the printed book format. The shift can be cause for gloom if you’re of the handwringing temperament, but it is far more an opportunity to rid the publishing business of a lot of cant and laziness and arrogance.
The third is the effect of all the other, non-consumer-facing change sin technology, especially that of supply chain management, in combination with the above two trends.
. . . continue reading, and add your comments
Fred Ramey: I believe that things are unbearably gloomy for conglomerated publishers whose business model is based on bringing significant numbers of readers to those books that have cost the most to acquire and that have been given the lion’s share of the marketing outlay—that is, the books the conglomerates are “banking” on. Although, as you know, statistics are extraordinarily difficult to come by, it appears to me that there might be a change in behaviors of readers (which may, I think, be masked by the economic downturn). If instead of buying the book they’re told to buy, readers are heading toward books that are hand-sold to them or that their online friends recommend, toward books they find links to on Amazon/Powell’s/etc., then what has previously appeared to conglomerated publishers as the surest thing will become much less so. It’s not hard to see how that would impact the entirety of a too-large list with imbalanced acquisition costs and high corporate overhead. But it would have a different effect on independent publishers. . . . continue reading, and add your comments
In other news from beyond the sphere of Random House et al., Publisher’s Lunch tells me that some university presses are now experiencing layoffs. Cambridge University Press in the UK:
Cambridge University Press is laying off almost 160 people in the UK. Chief executive Stephen Bourne says: "We know that this is an incredibly difficult time for those staff that are affected and we will be doing all we can to support them through these changes." He added, "This has been a very hard decision to make. There are parts of the business doing very well and a . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Declan Spring: I’d say pretty gloomy, but like many industries, publishing’s only starting to see the results of the economic collapse. What’s nerve-wracking is the uncertainty. I believe book sales have fallen industry-wide 7 to 12% since October. The big eye-opener for us was the Houghton/Harcourt merger last summer, and their announced buying freeze in November. I’ve been hearing about lay-offs at all the big New York houses, places like FSG and Henry Holt; and it’s not just the publishers. Barnes & Noble reported a big drop in Christmas sales, and everyone knows Borders is in big trouble. The really strong independents, the big ones I mean, that have always managed to show profits saw major losses this fall. The closing of Stacey’s in San Francisco is an indication of bad times for bookstores as well as publishers. . . . continue reading, and add your comments