Some good and bad news in the business of publishing…
1. Bad News: The financials for publishing look awful. I'm not an alarmist, because I happen to think the people racing out of the stock market are simply skittish, and that's made stock prices of publicly-traded companies artificially low, but we're seeing real problems with publishers and retailers. Harper-Collins announced that their sales were off 4.5% from last year (and, um, last year at this time they were 10% down from the previous year). Simon & Schuster and Hachette are also down. In fact, a report on the top 17 publishers of hardcover adult books reports that sales in September were down 30% (sales of trade paperbacks and mass markets were down 8%). Many publishers are announcing that they're trimming their lists. Some are cutting jobs (Rodale announced they were axing 10% of their work force). The chairman of Barnes & Noble flatly said he is expecting "a terrible holiday." Ouch.
2. Good News: On the up side of the business, there are numerous areas of growth. Children's titles are on an upswing. YA fiction is selling well. Harlquin is actually growing in a shrinking economy. And publishers are still in the business of creating and selling books, so they still need to buy books from authors. Things might be moving more slowly right now, but eventually publishers will remember that they need new books, and acquisitions will pick up. I see publishers working smarter and leaner — which is not a bad thing.
3. Bad News: There is a passing of the torch in publishing these days. Three excellent writers have passed from our midst. First, the wonderful mystery writer Tony Hillerman passed away — the man who created Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, and brought us all great cultural details about Native Americans in his books. Second, non-fiction writer Studs Terkel died last week. His book Hard Time remains one of the two best books ever written on the Great Depression, and The Good War is an eye-opening depiction of WWII. Third, sci-fi and techno writer Michael Crichton succumbed to cancer. One of the most influential popular novelists, he had a brilliant mind for creating storylines. The world of literature has lost a lot of talent in a week.
4. Good News: In a decision author representatives called "breathtaking," the Authors Guild settled their suit with Google. After three years of fighting, the two sides have finally come to agreement so that authors can get a fair share of revenues from books that are made part of Google's search engine. AND they did this by negotiating, instead of having some judge have to settle it for them (and thus make both sides happy, and lead to more legal wrangling, etc).
5. Bad News: The Orphan Works Bill is going to be presented to the next congress. Reiterating something I said in an earlier post, this is nothing more than giving lazy writers a license to steal. The short version: the government believes there have been too many lawsuites over material that has been lifted from websites. So this bill would allow another person to come along and "recast, transform, adapt, or integrate" your material, then sell it and keep all the profits. (Put another way: You could steal my answers to these types of questions, reword them a bit, and claim it as your own…with government protection.) On top of that, the bill suggests research will be handed over to the Copyright Office, AND any damages for someone stealing your work will be limited to whatever a judge thinks you could have reasonably sold your words for. A truly terrible change to our copyright laws for an writer who thinks for himself or herself.
6. Good News: Thomas Nelson is starting a new program that will provide free review copies of select titles to bloggers who agree to post 200 words and link to Amazon.com. In other words, they're going to take the informal system set up by CBA author groups, and formalize it. I think this is a brilliant move, and could really boost a book's online marketing. They're calling it the "Book Review Bloggers" program.
7. Bad News: Some significant changes at CBA houses. Joey Paul, the longtime editor at Thomas Nelson, is leaving to take another job elsewhere in the industry. There's a shakeup happening at Multnomah (now owned by Random House). Lots of rumors of staff trimming at other houses. In a bad economy, real people get hurt. Keep them in your prayers.
8. Good News: Lisa Samson's novel, Embrace Me, was just named by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of the Year. More Good News: My Oregon Ducks are 7 and 3. And even MORE Good News: It's almost Thanksgiving.