word craft


When publishing houses get bigger

fish swallowing fishI have learned that one of the com­pa­nies I pub­lish with was sold to anoth­er pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny half a year ago. 

Today—six months later—was the first time I heard about it. 

This has happened—over my pub­lish­ing years—a good num­ber of times. When it does the writer gets an imper­son­al e‑mail (as I did today) from some top exec­u­tive whom I’ve nev­er heard of before. In that let­ter, the writer is always told two things: that the buy­ing up of one pub­lish­er by anoth­er is a good thing for the world of pub­lish­ing, and that it is a good thing for writers. 

I don’t think either is true. I believe that when this happens: 

A fair num­ber of pub­lish­ing peo­ple lose their jobs. (Some of them are friends.) 

The num­ber of func­tion­ing edi­tors becomes less. 

The mis­sion of the swal­lowed pub­lish­ing house also gets swallowed. 

It cre­ates less diverse publishing.

Back lists are reduced.

There is a peri­od of con­fu­sion and reor­ga­ni­za­tion which dis­rupts lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between author and pub­lish­er. This can go on for a good while. 

The pro­duc­tive rela­tion­ship between author and long-term edi­tor, mar­ket­ing peo­ple, pro­duc­tion peo­ple, and so forth is often bro­ken and/or disrupted. 

The num­ber of inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ers diminishes. 

That means the pub­lish­ing options for the writer are reduced. That makes it hard­er for writ­ers to make a living. 

It becomes hard­er for new writ­ers to publish. 

As pub­lish­ing lists get longer there is mar­ket­ing for few­er books. 

As pub­lish­ing hous­es get big­ger they become increas­ing­ly depen­dent on “block­buster” books. 

This depen­dence on blockbusters—like the WWI bombs they are named after—is just as destruc­tive of the diverse world of publishing. 

These merg­ers and acqui­si­tions are about increas­ing pub­lish­ing prof­its. That’s okay. Just don’t tell me it’s good for me. 

That’s fic­tion.  

2 thoughts on “When publishing houses get bigger”

  1. Oh, I agree with every word of this Avi. My first book was pub­lished in 1978 by Lip­pin­cott. Before the sec­ond book came out in 1979, Lip­pin­cott had been bought by Harp­er-what­ev­er-they-were-call­ing them­selves-back-then. In the four decades since I have been through more of these events than I care to recall — and not once (NOT ONCE!) has it turned out to be a net-pos­i­tive for the writ­ers, or the edi­to­r­i­al staff.

  2. Thanks for your hon­est thoughts! As a small press pub­lished author I keep my fin­gers crossed that small press­es will stay small and get the recog­ni­tion they deserve. It’s very hard to break into these larg­er hous­es with, iron­i­cal­ly more peo­ple but less time for writers.


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