Heads rolling at the big publishing houses

For the past couple of days, heads have been rolling at several of the major publishing houses, and startling changes in their organizations appear to be underway. This morning, the Boston Globe reported cuts, consolidations, and/or layoffs at Random House, Simon & Schuster, and the religious publisher Thomas Nelson. Galley Cat and numerous others have meanwhile been offering updates on cuts, reorganizations, and (astonishingly) a reported cessation of review of new manuscripts at Houghton Mifflin. Publishers Weekly is reporting that Penguin is freezing raises for some of its employees; who knows what else is coming next. On the book blogs, many have begun referring to yesterday as “Black Wednesday”—but to all indications, the carnage isn’t over yet.

I feel bad for the people who are losing their jobs, and also to see some of those great old imprints suffering yet another round of blows. But at the same time, it’s hardly a surprise to see the big corporate-owned houses struggling, given the dismal state of the economy and their bound-to-fail efforts to treat books like any other mass commodity. I’ve blogged about this before, and I’d like to point again to Boris Kachka’s fine and prescient article in New York magazine, in which he takes the big houses (and their corporate owners) to task for failing to understand either how the book business has worked in the past or what kind of business models might be successful in the future.

Meanwhile, Hold Uncensored suggests one small first step that some publishers could take on the road to shaping themselves up: leave New York.

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