Thursday, December 04, 2008

Me Too Strategy?

It has been a horrible week in the book world.  And, I apologize in advance if this post sounds just a bit cynical.  

There is no question that the book business is in a world of flux.  Between yesterday and today, I've read no less than 30 different accounts of layoffs, salary freezes, hiring freezes, and warnings about all of the above, in the book business.

Some, there can be no doubt, are legitimate business moves made in light of the current economic climate.  But I wonder if some publishers didn't just see the opportunity to make cuts because they heard others were about to.

I raised this question with a colleague on the phone today, and he said that he was thinking the same thing.  Isn't it a little suspicious that all of this took place in a two day period?  How could it be that Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Putnam, Thomas Nelson, Bowker, and of course, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt all chose this week to cut staff.  Even HarperCollins got into the act by announcing a salary freeze.  At least Macmillan made their announcement about a hiring freeze a few weeks ago.

Now, I don't think that there was any collusion going on, but I do think that there was a lot of communications between these houses and that rumors abounded long before we were made aware of the situation.

One bright spot - Hachette announced that they were giving out bonuses this year!  

Can't wait to hear tomorrow's news... it's got to be better than the last two days.


Michael S. Hyatt said...

I don't think there was even communication. Publishers are suspicious of each other, and no one shares anything with anyone.

I think these decisions were driven by two things:

1. Horrible POS reports from November, with continuing high returns and few replenishment orders; and

2. The fact that from an accounting perspective you get the EBITDA add-back benefit of a discontinued salary on your financials. Many publishers desperately need this in order to comply with their bank covenants.



Fran Toolan said...

Thanks, Mike. I'm sure that you are correct about the drivers, and I think with HMH, there were even more drivers given the breadth and depth of their cuts.

I know that the big NY publishers have a lot of back channel communications at levels below senior management, which is really the basis of my question.

Hopefully, we can all now use this very difficult time to propel ourselves into a new era of publishing that re-discovers it's creative genius. That passion for creative brilliance is what brought me to this industry, and I'll wager it's what attracted you as well!