By January 7, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

Quickly: Publishing's Financial Crisis

It’s going to be tough to catch up with the last few weeks’ worth of links, but I’m resolved to do it. First, the financial crisis and its effect on the publishing industry….

Publishers are tightening their belts (“Puttin’ Off the Ritz,” by Motoko Rich, New York Times). Goodbye Four Seasons, hello sack lunch–at least for now:

Ms. Urban said some of the more lavish practices could not be sustained by a slow-growth, low-margin industry that can’t charge luxury prices. “Books can only support a certain retail price,” she said. “It’s not like you have books that can be Manolo Blahniks and books that can be Cole Haan. Books are books. A book by James Patterson costs the same as a book by some poet.”

But don’t expect publishers to stop gambling big bucks on blockbusters (“Blockbuster or Bust,” by Anita Elberse, Wall Street Journal):

Dark days are upon the book industry. Last month alone, Random House announced a massive restructuring; Simon & Schuster laid off 35 staffers; the adult division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stopped acquiring manuscripts for the rest of the year; and HarperCollins sent comedian Sarah Silverman a contract worth $2.5 million to write her first book.

And if you don’t like big books, bub, take a hike (“End of the book?” by Tom Engelhardt, Los Angeles Times):

His fault, the sap, was acquiring and editing good books. The sort of books that might actually make a modest difference in the universe but will be read by no less modest audiences — too modest for flailing, failing publishing conglomerates.

Can advertising provide publishers with much-needed revenue–advertising in books, that is? (“Running Advertisements in Novels,” Galleycat):

Now DailyLit, the book-serialization website with 150,000 subscribers, has brought ads to books. According to an AdAge article, a jewelry company and a greeting card company have sponsored serialized digital books on the literary site.

Running ads in online or e-mailed books doesn’t seem like such a big deal to a public besieged with blinking banners and pop-up ads. But if publishers work ads into print or into the pages of e-books, that will be different. (Of course, there’s always product placement, something Fay Weldon pioneered in The Bulgari Connection.)

A new suspect for having knifed publishing in the back: people who buy and sell books online (“Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish about It,” by David Streitfeld, New York Times). In other words, youdunnit:

In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them.

More on that front (“Twice-Sold Tales,” by Bob Thompson, Washington Post):

To Roberts, “the Web book business is literally the Wild West.” And if you can’t beat your competition to the draw — by rethinking the way you operate “every six months” — you’re dead.

Lastly, when private-sector solutions fail, government must play a role. Henry M. Paulson, Jr. (aka Julian Gough, Juno & Juliet) addresses the loss of confidence in our “book markets and literary institutions” (“The Plot Curdles,” New York Times):

These unreadable novels are clogging up our literary system, and undermining the strength of our otherwise sound literary institutions. As a result, Americans’ personal libraries are threatened, and the ability of readers to borrow, and of libraries to lend, has been disrupted.

(It’s funny, but it also gives me a strong sense of deja vu–although I haven’t yet been able to locate the original article that triggers it.)

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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