Earthquakes in the publishing world

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.

21 replies
  1. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    As we all know, nothing in life is predictable. The last time I went to the movies, the price was $5.00 for an adult admission. I haven’t gone since. Recently, gas was over $4.00 a gallon. At least the price came down enough that I can now drive past the theater that I can’t afford. Then there’s the clothing industry. I now do my clothes shopping online. As per videos, I was lucky enough to have an extensive collection of tapes and DVD’s. But there is never an alternative to a good book. Whether you buy it new or used, hard cover or paperback, take it out of the library, borrow it from a friend, or listen to it on CD, the story that you will read or hear will always leave you wanting more.
    Holiday presents for me to give out now are usually ones that I find at discount stores. No more major department stores for me. To be honest, I hope President Obama can turn this economic turmoil that we live in around. Bush, well, that’s another story.
    Tess, 2009 is the 80th anniversary of the Great Depression. Let’s hope we can all live through this one without losing our shirts (which, by the way, will be half off at all Sears Stores.)I guess the term “Brother can you spare a dime” can now be replaced with “Brother can you spare a job.” Let’s all hope for the best, and Tess, whenever your next best-selling book comes out, you can be damned sure that reading will always be a number one priority with your fans.
    Abe

    Abe

  2. JD Rhoades
    JD Rhoades says:

    Never thought I’d be so glad to still have a day job, although I was hoping to be out of it by now.

    But I think you’ll do fine, T. You’ve got a great track record, and a lot of goodwill.

  3. DasV
    DasV says:

    Tess

    This latest post of yours is particularly ironic to me; especially the ‘rumors’. The Small Press Dept at Barnes & Noble contacted my publisher almost 3 months ago indicating their buyer would soon be placing an order for my SciFi novel Fe Fi FOE Comes, Galley Proof Edition; assuming this would be timed to have the book on the shelf for the Christmas season. They have not followed up on the order.
    Since … sales have trickled, but continue, and the book has been nominated for best science fiction of all time in 3 different forums by readers. I have seen signed copies appearing in California, Miami, and London for between $30 and ₤37, as it is a limited edition, and there are unsigned used copies elsewhere. I earlier received queries from two mass-market SciFi publishers, who shall remain nameless; neither has followed up.
    Here’s more irony:
    In the novel, written over years, I predicted just such market cycles, explained why they occur and reoccur, and why the govt control of the market will never work; it will only make things worse. Several readers have commented that they see behind the headlines when they read it.
    The science fiction is the solution of course. Then maybe it isn’t fiction. Maybe it just hasn’t happened yet. Or maybe it’s just too late … that would be irony wouldn’t it?

  4. therese
    therese says:

    2009 is going to be different. But like the fictional characters who face their deepest fears, find a new sense of inner strength and integrity, then go on to save their personal world in the end, humans are capable of the same.

    I’m an eternal optimist and know that if we take the time to look, we are going to see great examples of transformation, compassion and maybe a miracle or two as this generation struggles through what was, is now, and the uncertainty of the future…

    Unfortunately the journalists and news media are dedicated to only show us the worst. So we all have to look harder for the hope. People can learn to grow their own food, make their own clothes, build their own houses. They can because writers have used the concrete magic of words to not only give instruction but also to show through story, why life matters, how others have overcome adversity and the power of facing that big-black-moment and still reaching a new beginning.

    As America tucks into a non-consumerism mentality, we will redefine who we are as people, in communities. That’s when the power of books will grow again, because authors are dedicated to connect with their readers. Readers are going to turn to books, to find the connection of story.

    My hope is the short-cut and distortion to words – now thru IM’s and TEXTS – will lose power and the beauty of words and story return. That’s what 2009 will offer, a whole lot of – choose wisely…

  5. DasV
    DasV says:

    Therese

    Unfortunately, the media is not showing the worst; much worse are the so-called solutions which will be justified by the news. They are playing with words; ‘bailout’ really means ‘aquisition’, the cost of which will be born by the citizens and their progeny. There is a real, but undefined limit to what price people can bear; ask the French Aristocracy of 1789, or the Rwanda refugees of 1994.
    In medieval times a peasant planted a row for the Lord of the Manor, a Row for the Duke, a row for the King, a row for the Bishop, and special rows now and then for levies. This left him with maybe a row for himself and his family. It hasn’t changed much fundamentally, when you grow your own food, make your own clothes, and build your own house. sooner or later someone will show up for their share.

  6. therese
    therese says:

    DasV,
    I will not debate history on Tess’s website. Feel free to review mine at – http://www.theresepatrick.com and contact me there.

    What Tess does is connect to readers through the power of story. Story is an integral part of the evolution of mankind. Tess is a storyteller who understands there are many layers to any story.

    I’ll be happy to debate history and The Forth Estate (media) that was desingned by the forefathers of America a few centuries ago. But not here. America was designed to have a level of estates: Executive, Legislative, Judicial – 3 that would keep a balance to government. The Forth Estate was to report on the other three.

    Whether we want governing or leadership is a personal choice – only decided when we TAKE THE TIME to understand the power of individual story.

    Tess gives us amazing story and as an author, is dedicated to that on her time frame. My comments on her blog, are specific to her job. If you have an issue with my comments, bring them to me.

    Tess needs the peace to create the next story that will be awesome and enlighten readers in ways not even Tess can envision. That is the power of story, and words.

  7. DasV
    DasV says:

    Therese
    Sorry to have offended you. Tess posted news regarding the economic health of the publishing industry, and how that will effect book sales. It isn’t history and it isn’t debatable. It is simply current events; reality.
    From Fox News:
    ‘Chrysler Exec: Auto Maker Collapse Could Spur U.S. Depression
    WASHINGTON–A top executive of Chrysler LLC cautioned Wednesday that a carmaker collapse could send the U.S. economy spiraling into a depression …
    The leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has said she hopes Congress acts to help the automakers. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would advance a bill Monday in preparation for a possible auto bailout vote later in the week.’
    The media is presenting the threat of depression should the govt not move to stabilize this particular industry. In other words another ‘bailout’, which in fact is an ‘acquisition’; whatever is given by the govt will be backed by stock (ownership) of another company. All govt funds are guaranteed by the taxpayers; in other words increasing the debt distributed among the citizenry. Whether you work on an assembly line or you build your own house govt lien will insure that you pay for the cost of govt.
    It shouldn’t be surprising that the govt cannot fix everything, and that there is a risk to counting on govt to do so, but mostly it is for most people. If you don’t see this as something worth thinking about or discussing, then I apologize for responding to your post. I don’t think it will interfere with Tess’s peace.

  8. DasV
    DasV says:

    As Tess says:

    “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.”

    Wise words … the media isn’t giving us the whole story, the govt cannot fix it because what they are doing is just more of the same, and we are all going to pay the price. As I said earlier, maybe it’s too late already.

  9. techiebabe
    techiebabe says:

    But you do have a book coming out in 2009, in the UK. We’re still waiting for Keeping the Dead (aka The Keepsake). And we’re plunging into recession this side of the pond too 🙁 Your loyal fans are bound to keep buying, but I would guess many of them buy books at a discount in a supermarket? Actually, I would probably not buy books at all if it wasn’t for the “2 for £7” offers in Tesco…

  10. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    Tess
    You actually bring up a really good point

    What will this do to the brick and mortar bookstores that depend on people coming into their stores (after passing store after store with large red and white window sized signage screaming 60 to 70 percent off sales) and the best that bookstores can offer are maybe 30 percent off stickers on 27 dollar hardcovers? (In addition to the fact that Amazon continues chipping away at their profits with the Kindle (and a newer model due out next year) and discounted books and occassioanl free shipping?)

    Not to mention if even 50 percent of all publishers place a moritorium on buying any new manuscripts for even half of 2009 then what are writers (the known as well as the unknown) supposed to do?

    Looks like libraries and used bookstores
    are going to be pretty crowded next year.
    Great if your a booklover but pretty bad if your a writer in search of a paycheck

    sigh——

  11. John Simmons
    John Simmons says:

    I went in to work a few weeks ago and was told my job was eliminated. I guess I am lucky I was able to write documentaries for a living for eight years.

    I see how fortunate I am to not owe anyone money. I can actually live on unemployment. And write my novel which will be the exception and published. Ha.

    Good luck to all.

  12. Christine
    Christine says:

    I have also read that in tough times lipstick sells exceptionally well. Small price, big return.

    Tough times can also have the effect of sorting out the chaff. Sure good stuff can get caught up in the cull, but this can also be a time to make sure of the quality of everything we produce and our behavior towards others in the process.

    I went to pick up a new mail box today from a shop run by a guy who rang two suppliers and made two very courteous calls to me about the availability and quality. I was blown away. I said to my husband that we were going to buy all possible hardware items from this person.

    I am going to continue to be as respectful as I can be to my clients, and give them my best possible work. It is all I can really do, and the offshoot is that I will probably feel better about things.

    Sure this is no guarantee of survival. But it is something that I CAN do.

  13. therese
    therese says:

    Hey John,
    Been there, done that. If this is your first experience being unemployed let me share a few pointers… Stay connected to people. The ones you worked with will avoid you in case unemployment is contagious.

    Remember what work you do, is not who you are.

    Find places to volunteer your time, according to your expertise, and interests, because even if you have the next great novel in the works, it’s necessary to keep refilling the jar of inspiration.

  14. Abe
    Abe says:

    Therese,

    I think the advice you gave John,”…because even if you have the next great novel in the works, it’s necessary to keep refilling the jar of inspiration” was not only a great saying, but advice for all of us who face unemployment in this downward spiral we call the economy.
    Abe

  15. PackingPadre
    PackingPadre says:

    Established writers such as Tess will survive because reading is inexpensive entertainment and there’s nothing like a good brand.

    The first-time novelist will be hurt as publishers avoid risk.

    Someone mentioned journalists. There won’t be as many of them to kick around any more. Media outlets, especially newspapers, are laying off staff left and right as advertising revenues, including from book publishers, drop.

    Look at the Great Depression. What was a hit? The movies and paperbacks. It will happen again.

  16. BOOKLOVER
    BOOKLOVER says:

    I think books will sell because books provide entertainment people can enjoy at home. Sales of video games are up now. People will be inclined to stay home with books, movies and games.

  17. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    Actually, I’m “downsizing” my projects

    Even now that I have a small tiny horror series on an even smaller. tiny webpage, I know that doesn’t guarentee me any “pull” on the resume as a writing credit ahead of other submissions

    So I am planning the few novels I am working to be around 290 pages rather than more a detailed 350 or more pages, figuring that the publisher would be more inclined to print something that might attract the eye of a possible customer who still WANTS to buy books but won’t be able to pay 31 bucks…..
    a 19 dollar trade paperback however…..

    Either way, I can’t give up. I’m one of those folks who HAS to write. The stories HAVE to come out wether I am able to sell them or not.

  18. maatlockk
    maatlockk says:

    Just before the recession started, I started planting my own veges. It was a hobby, kinda. I’m glad i started. NExt year, I’m not sure if I can afford veges on a student budget. Food prices here in winter sucks! (NZ)

  19. MrsDidi
    MrsDidi says:

    I hadn’t realised you were back on you Blog.Devasted to hear that you will not be writing a book for us all this year.
    All the best,
    Edith

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