Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Book publishing: and you thought newspapers were in trouble

Last November my then-book publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced it would stop buying new trade books altogether, an unprecedented move that one commentator compared to a butcher announcing to the world that they had stopped purchasing fresh meat. The head of the trade division resigned in protest. Mass layoffs followed. Industry observers predicted the move - made by the billionaire head of the Cayman Islands-registered investment group that bought the companies in 2007 and 2008 -- would only weaken the company.
The observers look to have been correct. According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is now in deep trouble, as sales in their textbook division dry up. "It wasn't about the books," a former Houghton vice president is quoted as saying. "It was about the owners." The article describes how an investor on a buying spree managed to bring down two century-and-a-half old publishing houses in a single year.

As an author, I'm saddened by the recent turn of events; I had a very positive experience at Harcourt with my most recent book, The Republic of Pirates. Personally, there is a silver lining: my next book will be published by Viking-Penguin, who were great partners for The Lobster Coast.

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