Fewer book publishers hurts writers, readers

This photo from Aug. 30, 2010, shows author Sara Paretsky during an interview at her Chicago home. The mystery writer warns that consolidation in book publishing benefits only a few stars.

M. Spencer Green | AP

In regard to your Aug. 3 editorial “Put authors, readers first in ruling on merger of big publishers:” In 1999, I went to New York the day my novel, “Hard Time,” was being published only to discover that everyone at Delacorte Press was being fired that day, including my editor, who had been sworn to silence ahead of the public announcement.

The German publishing giant, Bertelsmann, had acquired Bantam Doubleday Dell, which itself was a consolidation of those three presses. They kept the Delacorte imprint but none of the employees. I have gone on to have a fortunate career, with an editor at William Morrow and Co. who supports my sometimes controversial books, but most mid-list writers are not so lucky.

Bertelsmann went on to acquire Random House and Viking Penguin. All of these companies are now part of one corporate entity. This has been bad for readers and writers and for people who work in the industry. Every time publishers merge, they slash jobs across the board. In one recent merger between Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, they cut 1,200 jobs.

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The number of books published doesn’t go down, but editors and publicists now handle many more titles and can’t give most of them the attention every writer deserves.

When big media companies like Disney began buying publishing imprints in the 1990s, they changed publishing’s culture. These consolidations marked the start of the seven and eight figure advances to a handful of writers. The number of books the average reader buys remains fairly constant.

To recoup these advances, publishers must dedicate the bulk of their publicity budgets to their stars. This has skewed publicity in an effort to create blockbusters out of the big-ticket titles. Readers may buy these blockbusters, but they won’t also be looking for books published in smaller ways. And most books are published in smaller ways.

When I was president of Mystery Writers of America, I was shocked to learn that most of my sibling writers on the board were making $3,000 a year or less from their books. Consolidation benefits a few stars, and …read more

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Source:: Chicago Sun Times

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