by Raelene Gorlinsky
The news was not cheery this week in Bookland:
Reader’s Digest is eliminating a third of the positions in its Books Are Fun subsidiary.
McGraw-Hill Companies saw a third-quarter drop in profits of 14%, and cut another 270 jobs.
Random House Doubleday just laid off 16 positions across the board (including several editors).
David Drake of Doubleday Publishing Group: “we, like others in our industry and beyond, face a particularly challenging economic environment."
Amazon sales are still booming, but their growth has slowed a bit, and they’ve lowered their projections for sales increase in fourth quarter 2008.
Last quarter’s revenues at Indigo, Canada’s largest bookseller, fell 1.9%.
Simon&Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said their major accounts [bookstores] report that in-store traffic is down, and that sales of backlist titles have dropped. She is further quoted, “we remain optimistic that books will remain recession-proof, as everyone wants to believe, yet we are very much preparing ourselves for having to face an extremely difficult market."
Several more indie bookstores announced they would close, due to the balance sheet showing more red ink than black.
Yes, it's the economy.
Despite experiences from past economic recessions, despite what the "old timers" in the industry always believed, publishing and bookselling are no longer immune to a bad economy, to consumers who have far less discretionary income to spend. Books have not remained recession-proof.
The old wisdom was that people turned to reading as an inexpensive entertainment and escape from depressing reality, when they could no longer afford pricier pursuits. So book sales continued to do well when the economy was doing the opposite.
Ah, but that was before the present reality of "entertainment" - just pay your monthly cable and internet bills, and you'll have access to a gazillion TV shows and mindboggling worldwide information, entertainment, and social networking on the internet. So if money's tight, people now decide to just stay home with the TV and computer. No need to pull out your wallet to buy books to distract you from the depressing real world news.
So the old wisdom is no longer applicable. Publishing and bookselling are taking a hit just like everything else in this worldwide economic depression. Things are gloomy right now. I hear editors from many publishers sounding depressed, being worried about their jobs, wondering how they can possibly pump up slumping sales, worried about what books to acquire and what to pass on. And this means that publishing companies are focusing even more on needing explosive bestsellers, not wanting to expend much on chancy new authors or midlist - unless that new author seems like they can be the next megahit. Of course, that involves convincing the company to expend massive marketing money to turn that unknown into a chart-topping phenomenon. Which means less marketing budget available to other books. So even solid midlist authors are now worrying about what type of promotional support they'll get from their publisher - or even if they'll get another contract.
Book sales are showing a small decline for almost everyone - although few companies release specific figures. But many authors are commenting on decreased sales royalties, whether they are with the big 5 NY publishers, epublishers, or small print presses. And it seems to affect all genres in the trade, unless you are one of those megasellers (an infinitesimally small percentage of the total of new books released each year). It isn't a big drop yet, but no one's predicting a turnaround anytime soon.
So, in the face of all that doom and gloom, what can you as an author do? Well, authors and publishing industry professionals cannot singlehandedly save the economy. We have to do our best to keep things going and ride it out. What you can do for your career is persevere. Promote yourself and your books as much as you can afford to do. Keep writing, keep submitting. Even if a book doesn't get picked up, hold onto it - eventually the economy will improve, publishers will be contracting more books and filling more release spots, you can try it again. And mainly recognize that it is not your or your publisher's fault, the book business is seeing the same impacts as every other retail business in these hard times.
And maybe go buy of few books yourself.