It’s the Crisis, stupid! But what does this really mean?
January 14, 2009 by ruediger

Tracking news about how the crisis affects publishing over the past two months produces some strange findings. Almost instantly, starting as of  November 2008, we saw predictions about how the crisis would hit the industry. Then in December – and now again, with the year’s end reporting – we are told that notably in the US, UK and France, XMas 08 was pretty dark in various segments of the book trade. In Germany, it was not so bleak, but all of the rest of 2008 was not terrific in the first place.

Between these notes, we also heard quickly reports about imminent job cuts (notably in the US, with Simon &  Schuster, Macmillan), restructuring measures and (at Houghton Mifflin) an instant freeze in the acquisition of new titles.

But frankly, these are all pretty dumb, unspecific measures and reactions. What does this mean for a publishing company to stop buying new titles? (And Houghton had build its Himalaya of debt well before the crisis was on the horizon!)

But most amazing is how little we hear about the deeper – structural – trouble in the industry.  Only in France, in Livres Hebdo and in Le Monde, I found some pieces addressing the huge rise of advances over the past years, or more detailed observations about distribution and consolidation.

I didn’t find any well informed reflections about the overproduction (the flood of titles); or the internationalization of the trade, of trends and of author brands; or the probably new dynamics (and competition) between imprints of large conglomerates and independents with regard to the crisis.

Most of all, I would expect that this crisis will trigger digital change, because if you can dramatically reduce the cost of production, storage, distribution and also marketing by doing it all in an integrated digital environment, it is not all too difficult to predict that at least some actors – from within the industry, or some new entrants – will go down that path.

Well, I will do my best in the weeks and months to track information and thoughts along those lines and discuss it on this site.

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