Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Publishing in a Recession

The New York Times today has an article that speaks volumes about the publishing industry, especially to those who don’t realize how hectic it can be.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has stopped accepting manuscripts, in other words, working only with what they already have in the pipeline until they end the freeze. What will the literary agents do? I interned with an agent before landing at Cambridge, and I can understand the sensation this is causing amongst agencies; this only narrows their opportunities to place manuscripts with the most appropriate editors.


‘At the other end of the spectrum was Hachette Book Group, whose Little, Brown and Grand Central Publishing units together represent some of the biggest commercial authors, including David Baldacci, Nelson DeMille and James Patterson, not to mention the category-killing vampire queen, Stephenie Meyer.

‘As first reported by Publishers Lunch, an industry newsletter, Hachette is giving bonuses equal to one week’s salary to every employee in the company, in addition to the regular bonuses for which staff members are eligible. Just last month Reagan Arthur, a star editor at Little, Brown, signed a deal for a reported $6 million with the actress and writer Tina Fey to write a book of humorous essays.’

Some are bracing for tough times, others are doing just fine because of their big hits. It’s the great battle of the long-selling backlist classics vs. the short-term smash hits. The article largely focuses on trade houses. While academic publishing has produced its star authors and big-sellers (always nice), I’m curious to see how it’ll work out on that end. Furthering scholarly discourse produces a lot of backlist, and online sales can keep the books around for a long time.

In our case not testing the waters of popular tastes, we’re looking for and highlighting intellectual trends. That is a nice place to be.

Have a great holiday, American readers! I won’t be around to update the site or moderate discussion until Monday.

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