Hard times a'coming

<p>This is my last column in 2008, and it is hard to come up with many reasons to be cheerful. <br />
I write this at the end of last week, a week in which much that was familiar in the American publishing landscape has been swept away. The future of two, once-great publishers&mdash;Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt Brace&mdash;which were brought together with much &#8232;blood-letting as many lost their jobs to form a new, single entity, is now in doubt. The resignation of Becky Saletan, the talented leader of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, was swiftly followed with the news that three of the remaining editors had lost their jobs, including the distinguished publisher Drenka Willen.</p>
<p>The root and branch reorganisation of Random House in America had been much anticipated, but few would have predicted that the Doubleday division would be split apart and that Steve Rubin, the much-loved president, brilliant publisher and inspirational leader, would be shuffled out of the pack. Bantam too, once America&rsquo;s leading commercial paperback list, may remain as an imprint, but as a publisher it also ceased to exist.</p>
<p>Hard not to panic in the light of such a cataclysmic week that ended with news of job cuts at Simon &amp; Schuster. But quiet work had been going on behind the scenes in the UK which resulted in Entertainment UK beginning to supply books to supermarkets again, and with growing hope for the future of Bertrams. It has been a week in which British publishing has also been staring into an abyss&mdash;but one that we may have narrowly avoided due to some valiant hard work that took place behind the scenes.</p>
<p>I fear we may not have seen the end of job losses, but I hope we have seen the worst. Penguin led the way with a rather noble move when senior staff agreed to freeze their own salaries in the interest of the job security of the less well-paid.</p>
<p>Having lunch with a publisher last Wednesday, we quipped that it would be the last publishing lunch &#8232;for some time. We almost fainted when the waiter delivered bottled water to the table instead of tap, and hastily asked him to take it back.</p>
<p>Next year is going to be tough. The wrong response would be to think the way forward is only to publish &ldquo;big&rdquo; books. They will cost more than ever into a likely declining market. We need instead to do what we do already&mdash;just with more focus and creativity and energy than ever. And we need to eat less lunch.</p>