Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Global Economy Hits Publishing Hard

I indicated recently at The Rap Sheet that as readers, we need to support our publishing industry as the economic downturn is now hitting publishers and booksellers hard. Today, Publishers Weekly broke some ominous news

It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts” across its trade and reference divisions. The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go to the editorial review board. He also maintained that the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business.

Last week we heard that Random House, America’s largest trade publisher announced some chilling news

Random House Inc., the world's largest general-interest book publisher, has frozen its pension plan for current employees — and eliminated access to it for new hires.

"Effective Dec. 31, benefits in the Random House Inc. Pension Plan will no longer grow — but they will not be reduced," a spokesman for the publishing house, Stuart Applebaum, said in a statement to the Associated Press. He also said that effective January 1, no new employees will be enrolled in the Random House pension plan.

It is vital that we as readers, go out and buy books as presents during the holiday season, and yes I know we are all cash-strapped currently, but we must support the industry. The San Francisco Chronicle puts the problem into context here -

Elaine Katzenberger, executive director of City Lights Books in San Francisco, which operates both the bookstore and a publishing division, said she has seen the major chains begin to order fewer books.

"One side of the argument that I hear is that books are impervious to a recession because they're small purchases," Katzenberger said. "On the other side, though, you are aware that people are buying less of everything. So you look around and you're not feeling optimistic."

City Lights publishes 20 books a year and might have to scale back to 17 or 18 titles a year, she said.

Still, Katzenberger noted that with any downturn, there's always some upside.
Certain books seem to be benefiting from the white-knuckle economy. This week's Amazon.com best-sellers include the Warren Buffett biography "The Snowball"; Donald Trump's "Trump University Commercial Real Estate 101: How Small Investors Can Get Started and Make It Big"; and "I.O.U.S.A. One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt" by Addison Wiggin and Kate Incontrera.

Other books were not so well timed, including "Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Banker," published in August. The book jacket features a preppy banker in Hermes tie and French-cuff sleeves, seated at a desk littered with a wad of cash, Dom Perignon on ice, a Rolex and a statue of a charging bull.

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