With this latest news from Random House, combined with this news from Simon and Shuster, announcing the cutback of 35 jobs, the ground is shifting dangerously in the world of publishing. All this on the heels of news that publisher Houghton Mifflin is calling a moratorium on the acquisition of new titles. I’ve also heard rumors that Barnes and Noble has seriously cut back its orders for next year.
All this makes me — not to mention everyone else in the industry — very, very nervous.
A few months ago, I predicted that the book industry would do okay this Christmas, because people still need to buy gifts, and books represent a pretty good value for the money. What I hadn’t anticipated were the incredibly deep discounts now going on across all sectors of the retail market. I was in a clothing store recently and was stunned to see nice items of clothing, such as scarves and gloves and even sweaters, in the $20 range — half to almost 75% off the original price. Which means that books have serious competition in the thrifty range of Christmas gifts.
And as the economy looks sicker and sicker, I don’t see a turnaround coming anytime soon. The country is in for hard times, no matter who the next President is. I know I sound gloomy, but not half as gloomy as some of my banker friends, whose predictions for next year make me want to stockpile wood and peanut butter for the ordeal ahead.
The only glimmer of hope, at least for writers and performers, is that when times get tough, people desperately crave entertainment. I recall reading that during the last great depression, the film industry thrived. I don’t know if that’s really true, but it strikes me as something that would be true. When I get stressed out, I find myself heading for the video rental store. I hunt for escapist titles — science fiction, fantasy, comedies, thrillers. The same for my choice of books. What I don’t want are gloomy literary works or depressing tales of realism.
I’m almost glad I don’t have a book coming out in 2009. It sounds like it might be a bad year for book sales.