According to Publishers Weekly Houghton Mifflin has just stopped acquiring new books. This is a grim day. I also think it’s incredibly short-sighted:
HMH Places “Temporary” Halt on Acquisitions
By Rachel Deahl — Publishers Weekly, 11/24/2008 12:54:00 PM
It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.
Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts” across its trade and reference divisions. The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go to the editorial review board. He also maintained that the the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business.
“In this case, it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature,” he said. “We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline.” The action by the highly leveraged HMH may also be as much about the company’s need to cut costs in a tight credit market.as about the current economic slowdown.
While Blumenfeld dismissed the severity of the policy, a number of agents said they have never heard of a publisher going so far as to instruct its editors to stop acquiring. “I’ve been in the business a long time and at a couple of houses I worked at, when things were bad, we were asked to cut back,” said agent Jonathon Lazear. “But I’ve never heard of anything so public.” Lazear added that, in the past two weeks, business has been more “sluggish” than it had been all year.
Another agent who had also heard about the no-acquisitions policy at HMH called the move “very scary” and said it’s indicative of an industry climate worse than any he’s ever seen.
Thus far one agent has confirmed that at least one of his manuscripts has been declined at HMH per the policy. But perhaps an editor at the house put it best; in an e-mail, the editor mentioned the policy and added, “Who knows what’s next.”
How can a publisher not buying books be ‘doing things smarter’? This is quite disturbing.
4 thoughts on “whoa–scary publishing news”
When bankers in the old boy network won’t loan each other money, then I guess publishers not acquiring new books can’t be far behind. I am stunned. Even cronically broke people like me find money to buy books(okay, not many and not often, but some). How will civilization survive?
I think HMH is doomed. Doomed! Its Irish parent is seriously overleveraged and has Lehman exposure: http://www.tribune.ie/business/article/2008/oct/12/ocallaghans-empg-is-hit-by-debt-concerns/
barbara, a lot of people are making dim decisions at the moment. Washington’s governor is reportedly considering swingeing cuts in the state’s education budget. And Washington’s business advantage in biotech etc. is based on a highly educated workforce. In three years the legislature and executive will be shrieking and rending their clothes and wondering why, oh why, we’re losing business to Boston and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill research triangle. But people are frighted, and fear leads to bad decisions.>>anonymous, many thanks for that article. Lehman exposure is cooking the goose for a lot of people. But I hadn’t put together the education spending angle at all (despite ranting about Christine Gregoire’s choices to Kelley just yesterday). Perhaps I should be lumped in with the dim people :)
I can understand having to make some weird decisions, & the so-called “tightening of the belt”– buying lets say a less well known property for cheaper or what have you– but it seems like NOT spending money now just digs a hole for you to fall into LATER when you don't have incoming cash. I mean– publishing depends on liquidity, & if you can't play the game– like, if you are over-leveraged for instance– that is a bad corner to be painted into. Hopefully this is being reported wrong?
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