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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14 thoughts on “Major Publishing House files bankruptcy

  1. You said, “It sickens me, literally sickens me, to think there may be no more tangible books in the future.”
    I agree. I don’t know what all this means for the future of books, and readers and writers and publishing. It’s too big and complicated for me to unravel. Despite that, this makes me very sad.


  2. Unfortunately the big publishers haven’t kept up with changing trends, which was their fatal flaw. I don’t think tangible books will ever go out of style, though. There is now a way for authors to have their books formatted and printed On-demand. We have a bookstore here that has a machine that will print any book in about five minutes and only costs the author about a hundred dollars to have it formatted for the machine. The book doesn’t cost any more than any other paperback, either, and the writer gets a bigger percentage of the proceeds. As a result, I think ‘real’ books will be around for awhile longer. 🙂


  3. Hey! I made the big time… I inspired you.

    Sorry it was with such bad news, though.

    Like you, I am sad about the demise of paper books, although I am encouraging it by having a Kindle. It is just so dern convenient, and I find I read more with it.

    The downside though, like you said, is no paper. My worry is that if something horrible happens, that there will be no books left for future generations.

    What is the ancient Egyptions or Greeks wrote their words on computers, and something happened that made electricity extinct. All of that knowledge would have been lost for future generations.

    That is my horror.

    I also really like to hold a book in my hand, and give it to an author to sign. Signing “book cover cards” just doesn’t have the same feel.

    I’m love to have a hard copy of every book I’ve written to hand down to my grandchildren, and their grandchildren.

    We can only hope.


  4. Unfortunately they’ve not learned the lessons from the music and film industry and are reluctant to embrace new technology. Like it or loathe it ebooks are more convenient, but the issue is about their marketing. When they release a non-physical ebook for the same (or more) than a physical book they’re just encouraging people to find ‘alternate’ methods. How many Harry Potter ebooks were in circulation before the official release of those ebooks? The demand was there, they just chose not to release them. Times are changing, for the better or worse who can say, but they need to embrace them or risk being harmed by them. Throw into the mix the vast array of cheap ebooks and an economy on it’s knees and you’ve got a bad combination……. 10 sales at 25% less than cover is worth more than 1 sale at full price, but like the music industry they fail to see that and some of that is down to corporate greed…..


  5. I hit “like” for the comments you made -not the title. I do appreciate eBooks, but I agree that there is intrinsic value in holding a physical book whether brand new, shared by a friend, or passed down through generations – at the most basic level, there’s a value in encouraging human interaction and not isolated consumption that is difficult to recreate with an eBook read.


  6. I just attended a class on e-publishing, and the instructor said that the Big Six publishers are arrogant enough that they don’t want to change. Sad for everyone, but bankrupcy is one result of not listening to the writers and readers of the world.


  7. Oh dear, how sad. I’m not really surprised, but just the same disappointed to hear of this. ebooks are indeed changing things, including newspapers. I buy for my ereader, but I buy books too.


  8. I just read an interesting comment today about e-book formatting: the the Big Six are usually far more likely to have poor formatting and bad editing than the smaller publishers. Arrogance? Dinosaur-like speed in coming to grips with technology? I don’t know, but it is sad, isn’t it?


  9. Like yourself, this breaks my heart . . .

    While I tend to purchase books from independently owned book stores, more and more I have begun to feel for those such as brick and mortar companies like B&N. There isn’t any one of them — not in this trade, anyway — that is faring well.

    Imagining a world without tangible books is not something I want to do. It’s like replacing people with holograms.


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