Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hard Times

Publishing houses are certainly bleeding, and those that haven't yet started to take staff and books out to the woodshed, ax in hand, are going after end-of-the-year bonuses, raises and who knows what else, while management girds its loins for "the inevitable." After all, in malls across America, the chain bookstores are getting mauled (just like other retailers). Traffic at many bookstores nationwide has evidently slowed to a trickle. Book orders have reportedly fallen off a cliff. It's now being said that, in this Christmas season, no popular book is selling so well as to be unavailable. In other words, if you want it, it's going to be at your local Barnes & Noble. For publishing, that's like an obituary.
Tom Engelhardt in the Nation writes about the state of Reading in an Age of Depression, with both book retail and the publishing industry in deepest trouble.

It's all come as a big shock. As Motoko Rich at the New York Times says :
Since the Depression, the notion has prevailed that publishing is largely a recession-proof industry. Publishers have argued that because books are inexpensive, provide lasting pleasure and are sought by a relatively affluent clientele, their appeal persists even in hard times. ... But now there is widespread concern that publishing's resilience may have been exaggerated and may today be no more than a myth.
Major houses have announced big layoffs (Andrew Wheeler lists the victims of December 3rd, "Black Wednesday", here) are severely cutting back budgets for new acquisitions, and big advances will probably be a thing of the past.

But if there is a bright side, it is as Jonathan Jones on the Guardian's art blog points out - creativity is going to survive, even in the hardest of times :
... so it's best not to depress ourselves just yet with apocalyptic scenarios. We won't improve anything with them and may make matters worse. ... (economic recession) didn't stop people writing books, putting on plays or exhibiting adventurous art. There was probably as much artistic achievement in the 1980s as in the 1990s and early 21st century – perhaps a bit more. In fiction, for example, my generation has yet to produce authors as distinctive as Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie, who made their impact in the 80s.
Author Jim C Hines puts it very nicely on his blog :
The writers will keep writing. Because that's what we do.

Further Reading :

James Boong's essay Read It and Weep at Salon.com, which ominously begins :

The end of days is here for the publishing industry -- or it sure seems like it.


Lydia Teh said...

It is hard times indeed, and things are going to get worse before they get better. I've had three regular writing gigs canceled this year, so that's really a pinch.

Anonymous said...

"The writers will keep writing. Because that's what we do."

Damn right, that's what we do. We're stupid that way.

KittyCat said...

I don't know what to say but one thing's for sure - while I rushed about doing last minute Christmas shopping, the bookstores were the least crowded!

Nevertheless, I was happy to see that there ARE other folks who thoughts books make excellent Chrismas gifts :)