The Publishing Recession

Eoin Purcell

Troubled Times
There is little point denying it, we are in the middle of some big changes in global publishing. It’s moments like this that remind you why working and living in what some might see as backwater, has its advantages. That said we are not immune to it here either.

The Irish Story
Sales have been a bit sluggish and while we need only €12 million in sales over the next three weeks to match 2007 figures (that’s a target of just over €152million sales according to Bookscan) there are only two pre-christmas weeks left and while volume is boyant, average selling price is taking a hammering in the last few weeks.

The Publishing Crunch
It is not just that many of the largest American publishers have decided to lay off staff (there are SoManyStoriesIJustDon’tKnowWhichOneToPick). Even Newspaper companies chimed in with bad news Tribune Co. went into bankruptcy and New York Times Co. announced that they would mortgage their office block to reduce debt. There is a real sense that publishing is entering some kind of crisis.

Is There Any Good News?
The New York Times pointedto the strong year that Hachette has had in the US but paired that story with the uttery depressing tale of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt which is depressing enough on its own.

So Just What IS Going On?
For perhaps the most coherent explanation of what kicked the US element of this off, read this post by moonrat over at the Editorial Ass blog:

In October, bookstores returned so many books that most publishing companies had more coming into them than going out of them. For some companies, the incoming number was more than several months’ outgoing.

Although bookstores are suffering (and how), it was the publishing houses that had to absorb the cost of this cash flow creator. This is why Impetus, a relatively new indie company without the history to survive this shock, folded. Some houses lost so much money in returns in October that profits from the entire rest of 2008 have been negated.

Where Does This Leave Us?
Publishing cautiously is the only answer I have. It’s a bad time for small publishers and mid-list authors. Bizarrely new or debut authors might just have a punt, acquiring new authors tends to be cheaper and if the work is right, marketing it can be easier too. That makes sense in a poor market, just as publishing known entities with solid histories does. I’ll add some more thoughts when I have them!

Refreshed from my Chicago trip but only defrosting now!
Eoin

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2 comments

  1. First, I love your Christmas decorating here…very nice!

    Second, I love your optimism for debut authors. I’d like to move from articles and stories to being a novelist intsead, and the news lately has been depressing. Thanks for that insight–I wouldn’t have stopped working on it anyway, but I’m grateful for the bit of encouragement in this post.

    I’m glad you had a good trip to Chicago. Did you get an offer for the Senate seat? Or see the Blues Brothers?
    😉

    1. Susan,

      The trip was great, no money was offered and no Senate Seat was suggested for any money that was not offered! No Blues Brothers either but I did get Mexican, Greek, Italian and pizza! Such are the culinary pleasures of Chi-town!

      As for the encouragement it seems to me that when the market offers rewards at the top and the bottom, the middle hurts but being at the bottom, debut authors have better options. Though this is bad news for authors on book three or four who have made only a moderate (I stress this is a relative judgment) impact on the market! No cloud has silver lining for everyone I fear!

      Eoin

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