Coming up for air…only to find a world gone mad

I admit it. I’ve been pretty self-absorbed and out of touch for the last week or so. My life (after my brother and sister-in-law went home after Thanksgiving) has revolved around work and my own writing. Thanks to that, I wound up with four hundred or so emails yesterday that I had to wade through. Plus, the last week has been interesting/scary for the publishing world. The big publishers are having all kinds of financial difficulties. Between layoffs, reorganization, and pay freezes, it’s looking pretty bleak for places like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and especially Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Christian publishers aren’t immune, either. Thomas Nelson just laid off 55 people, about 10% of their employees.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a huge name in the education market, is one of the scarier looks at what’s happening to publishing. A week or so ago, they announced an acquisitions freeze. That means no new contracts. Since then, it appears the acquisitions freeze doesn’t affect all departments as was originally reported, but I have no doubt acquisitions will slow to barely a trickle. There are some other things going on at HMH that I haven’t had a chance to catch up on, but it’s not looking good for them.

I’ve heard of several publishing executives that have quit or been fired. Some are still in their current positions but looking at other job opportunities. The number of layoffs in the publishing industry continues to grow every week. Random House is going through a restructuring period that’s dismantling Doubleday and Bantam Dell and redistributing the pieces to other divisions. Penguin and HarperCollins have put a freeze on all pay raises for now.

Yes, this is a scary time in publishing. As far as I know, nothing like this has ever happened. Everyone thought the publishing industry was somewhat immune to the economic climate, but this wacky roller coaster ride is proof that no one is immune.

However, there is some good news that’s come out in the last few days. Fictionwise, a big e-book retailer, has partnered with Stanza to bring something like 40,000 titles to the iPhone. Last week, Pan Macmillian announced they’ve signed with Stanza as well. A couple of weeks ago, BooksOnBoard, a huge digital book and audiobook online retailer with around 270,000 titles in its catalogue, joined forces with Stanza. This is great news for e-book publishers and authors. We’re gaining recognition and the world is finally taking us seriously. Between Oprah endorsing Kindle and Stanza gaining access to huge numbers of titles for the iPhone, I don’t see how author organizations (*cough* RWA *cough*) can possibly look down on e-pubbed authors. We’re a large community with a voice that’s finally being heard.

I’ve known for years that publishing is an unpredicatable world full of ups and downs. I just never expected it to be this wild a ride. I’m in it for the long haul, however. No matter how scary, exasperating, or confusing this industry can be, it’s where I belong.

If you want to stay up on the latest in the publishing industry, I highly recommend signing up for the free e-newsletters from Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace. You can also find a ton of information on the GalleyCat blog at mediabistro.com.

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