Major Publishing House files bankruptcy

It’s a sign of the times.   Major, large corporations that have been around for years are folding.  It’s no surprise that publishing houses are part of that group.  After all, tangible book sales are down, replaced by an upswing in e-book purchases.  While this is disconcerting and heartbreaking for this author (I love real books and think it’s almost sacrilegious  to eradicate them all together), I understand the big 6 can’t survive unless they put their finger on the pulse of the consumer.  They really need to re-evaluate their approach to publishing.

The first big house to file is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., the publisher of authors from Mark Twain to J.R.R. Tolkien.  They filed bankruptcy to eliminate more than $3 billion in debt.  The company filed Chapter 11 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York, along with more than 20 affiliates.

According to an article in the Lake Tahoe News, “The global financial crisis over the past several years has negatively affected” Houghton Mifflin’s financial performance, in a business that “depends largely on state and local funding” for the schoolbook market, said William Bayers, company general counsel, in court papers.

He cited “recession-driven decreases” and “purchase deferrals” by the states and a “lack of anticipated federal stimulus support” for “substantial revenue decline.”

From someone who believes in traditional publishing with all of her heart, this doesn’t surprise me that such a large company would fall in the face of the current economy and its lack of forethought into future publishing.  I only hope the rest of the traditional publishers take notice and do something to stop their companies from the same fate.

It sickens me, literally sickens me,  to think there may be no more tangible books in the future.  It should be an option to all authors and readers.  Books last forever.  Kindles will only last until the next big piece of technology replaces it.  Books can be passed on, handed down from generation to generation.  E-books have to be paid for, you can’t pass them on, they can’t be shared and you’ll never find them at a flea market, garage sale or signed by the author.  But that’s a whole different post isn’t it?

The big houses need to wake up and quit thinking they are too big to be touched by this economy.  Start looking to the consumer instead of the government to find their way out of debt.  Many publishers are already putting their textbooks in e-book format and school systems are handing out Kindles to their students at the beginning of the school year with the textbooks loaded.  This opens a lot of issues that worry me economically (on more of a local state and county tax level), but the concept is a good one.

What are your thoughts on the frailty of the big six and do you think the traditional book can survive?  Do you want it to survive?  As a writer, are you more inclined to approach a big house or are you looking more for independent, smaller houses or even self-publishing?

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