More publishing industry woes

January 2, 2009

Posted by Nick Sarno

“It feels like the world is coming to an end — and book publishing is just one part of that.” –Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly.

There was a brief but interesting article posted at Salon.com a few weeks back about the demise of the publishing industry. It’s nothing entirely new…we’ve all been reading the same thing again and again for the past six months, but it boils things down very simply. Along with the usual culprits (changing distribution, competing media, etc.), the article points the finger where it probably should have been pointed all along: at the C.E.O.s of the publishing houses.

“There were hedge fund guys with no background in publishing buying up publishing houses,” says André Schiffrin, founder of the New Press and author of “The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read.” He explains that corporate owners of major publishing houses expected impossible 15 to 20 percent profit margins in an industry with traditional margins of 3 to 4 percent. “They were part of that whole feeling that you could make money by buying and selling companies, rather than by selling books. At some point it comes to a dead end.”

What many articles on the same subject seem to miss (and what this particular article picks up on) is this: the fall of the publishing industry has little to do with reading and writing. Chain bookstores like Borders are wobbling, and the big houses are filing for bankruptcy, but I have the feeling that this will not stop writers from writing or readers from reading. There will be a hole, and something (hopefully a lot of little somethings) will take its place.

As long as people can read, there will probably never be “The Last Days of Publishing.”

If we’re lucky, though, there may come “The Last Days of Hedge Fund Guys.”

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One Response to “More publishing industry woes”


  1. As long as people can read…

    I suggest you take a look at American dropout rates that run as high as 55% in many communities and the fact that since 1965 the education powers that be have repeatedly lowered the bar for passing standards on the SATs to obfuscate that, more and more, people can’t read. Millions “graduate” high school who are functionally illiterate, ie. who cannot fill out a simple application for work properly and thus are destined for menial labor or a life of crime and punishment.

    …as long as people can read may be shorter than you think, or the number of people who can read may become such a small and elite crowd that there is no profit in producing anything other than the next reality TV show and potato chips. Oh, and anti-depressants to keep the population calm. Oh, of course none of that would ever happen. A lot of us are working to change the declining literacy scene, but not enough.


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