Bailing out Book Publishers?

Marion Maneke writes:

Amid all the horrible economic news, there was a little blip in book publishing this week that may turn out to be a milestone in the evolution of the business. Three Random House, Inc.Image via Wikipediamajor publishing houses announced significant changes–the remaining firms will certainly follow suit in the weeks and months ahead.

The problem is the cascading effect of a collapse in sales. Boris Kachka, New York magazine’s publishing reporter, takes this to mean Random House is like General Motors, a sclerotic firm plagued by too many marques and overcapacity. Surely the six major publishers produce far too many books over-stuffing bookstores with less-than-compelling fare.

Others will view Black Wednesday–the moment earlier in the week when Houghton Mifflin lost their publisher; Random House carved up the remains of its decade-old Bantam Doubleday Dell acquisition and fed the pieces to the firm’s own sharks; and Simon and Schuster announced 30+ redundancies–as a product of the relentless digitization of entertainment and information. In this scenario, books are just another victim of the collapse of the print business model that has already pushed the newspaper business to the wall.The Doubleday Publishing GroupImage via Wikipedia

Although no meaningful alternative to printed books yet exists (hello, Amazon, we’re all waiting for Kindle numbers here!), skeptics have been predicting the demise of books for more than a decade even as sales of individual titles grow to higher and higher levels. Indeed, one of the curiosities of the book business has been its role as revenue generator of last resort. In our new media landscape where there is less friction against generating fame, it is also harder to generate cash from one’s notoriety.

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