The Future Of Publishing? You May Be Looking At It

Depressed about the state of the publishing industry? Not as much as you should be.

Just in time for holiday cheer, Salon.com posted a detailed look at just what's been going wrong with the publishing industry, and it's pretty sobering. You might have heard about Black Wednesday, and the massive layoffs that have hit pretty much every publisher. (Gunter Grass' editor fired!)

But I didn't actually know how badly the publishing industry as a whole was doing, especially the recent sales numbers. October's sales were down 20 percent from the year before, and even early December — traditionally, the industry's fat time — showed a 6.6 percent drop.

The biggest problem for the industry (besides the general economic ickfest) is the fact that so many bigger publishers have been bought by large companies and "hedge fund guys," who expect much bigger profit margins and don't really understand books. (I feel like I see the same things being said about newspaper publishers.)

There are a couple of bright spots in all the gloom. For one thing, smaller publishers, which are more "nimble" and less tied to expensive ways of doing things, may thrive in this challenging new environment. (And it's probably no coincidence that just the other day, we were blogging a Washington Post article saying the only good dark/weird fiction was coming from independent publishers these days.)

And everybody's saying that e-books and electronic publishing may finally justify their promise as the future of books. Can the decimated publishing houses regroup around cheaper, sharper electronic books?

The whole article is well worth reading, both to fathom quite how deep publishing's hole goes, and to witness the few glimmers of hope. [Salon]