The economic news couldn’t be worse for the book industry. Now insiders are asking how literature will survive.
The end of days is here for the publishing industry — or it sure seems like it. On Dec. 3, now known as “Black Wednesday,” several major American publishers were dramatically downsized, leaving many celebrated editors and their colleagues jobless. The bad news stretches from the unemployment line to bookstores to literature itself.
“It’s going to be very hard for the next few years across the board in literary fiction,” says veteran agent Ira Silverberg. “A lot of good writers will be losing their editors, and loyalty is very important in this field.”
One of the most visible victims was Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of Philip Roth, Margaret Drabble, Richard Dawkins and J.R.R. Tolkien, among many others. Just before Thanksgiving, the publisher (actually two venerable houses, Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, which were bought and merged by an Irish company over the past two years) had announced an unprecedented buying freeze on new manuscripts. On Dec. 3, they laid off what former executive editor Ann Patty described as “a lot” of employees (the industry trade publication Publishers Weekly confirmed at least eight), among them the distinguished editor Drenka Willen, whose list of authors included Günter Grass, Octavio Paz and José Saramago.
On the same day, Simon & Schuster laid off 35 employees, and a companywide memo from Random House’s CEO announced the dissolution of Doubleday (publisher of “The Da Vinci Code” and Jonathan Lethem) and Bantam Dell (Danielle Steel, John Grisham), distributing the pieces among the conglomerate’s three remaining publishing groups, which ultimately resulted in lost jobs. The large Christian publishing company Thomas Nelson also announced 54 layoffs.
The bad news kept rolling in. Within weeks, Macmillan had laid off 64 employees, spreading the damage across the entire company, which includes such literary stalwarts as Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; Henry Holt; Picador and St. Martin’s Press. Not only were some of the industry’s most respected figures out of a job, but a tremendous number of writers had lost their editors and publicists. [link to mintdollar.com]