Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Layoffs at Harper, Collins Closing

Another shoe is dropping in the industry this morning. Following last week's earnings report, Publishers Lunch (subscription) is reporting that HarperCollins is closing the Collins division that had grown quickly under publisher Steve Ross, and folding the imprints into Morrow and HarperCollins. This also means, of course, layoffs.

Ugh. Really, really to sorry everyone over there who is affected.

UPDATE: Children's imprint Bowen Press is closing as well. Ugh.






75 comments:

Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

NOOOOO!!!!!! The economy just keeps getting worse and worse... ugh.

sorry to all who got laid off :(

MT said...

Hi Mr. Bransford,

I read your post "Too Controversial" and due to my internet-incompetence, wasn't sure where to post my question: What about religiously/theologically controversial literary fiction? Do you suppose that agents would generally shy away from representing those? In other words, would this type of material be another shoe dropped upon the industry? Many thanks.

spinregina said...

Awful. Only thing I can hope is that somehow, we'll come through this better off. Everything works out. Right? Right?

Nathan Bransford said...

MT-

If it works it works.

But right now it has to really work.

Mira said...

Very hard times. My good wishes go to everyone who is affected by this.

Sarah Laurenson said...

It is a rough time and I hope that we come out the other side of this with a better publication business model. It would really suck to go through all this heartache and get nothing out of it.

My heart goes out to those who are without today (yesterday and tomorrow as well).

gerriwritinglog said...

*cough* Not all of us have subscriptions to Publishers Marketplace. Care to elaborate on what the Collins divison is?

But yes, layoffs SUCK. My sympathies to those who are part of the cut.

Nathan Bransford said...

gerriwritinglog-

It was a division at HarperCollins comprising a collection of nonfiction imprints, such as Collins Reference, Collins Business, Collins Design, etc., that had grown quickly in terms of personnel over the last couple of years. A lot of really, really talented editors over there, some of whom will be absorbed by Harper and Morrow, some will be let go.

Walter said...

Really awful.

T. Anne said...

gerriwritinglog,
Publishers Weekly is online and a great source for any one interested in the business in general.


Durning the great depression people took respite in entertainment (i.e Shirley Temple) If there's any bright spot for writers in today's economy, it's the fact books can provide a great escape.

Marilyn Peake said...

It's a shame that more businesses aren't just holding tight, waiting to see what happens with the bailout and stimulus package before laying off more people. Every day that it's looked like a stimulus package was about to pass, the DOW soared. More layoffs means less customers. There have been a few stories on the news lately about businesses that decided not to lay off any of their workers, and the workers turned around and gave up pay on certain days in order to help out the businesses. Kudos to them.

Scotty said...

And they continue to play politics on the Hill. I'm taking names, believe me.

Horrible news, of course. I ran into a longtime friend in the supermarket the other day and he looked about as dejected as I've ever seen him. "No work," he said. When you're in advertising like I am, you always think there's something you can do. Knowing that there isn't hurts a lot.

Nathan, don't mean to preempt a questions entry, but if you're rejected in times like this, does that mean your MS is dead? Or can you try again if and when things pick up? Is there ever a time to query the same agent again?

Keep the faith, ya'll.

*by the way, I'm going by a new name since there are two Scotts here and no longer any pics to tell us apart.

Bane of Anubis said...

The stimulus package won't do much for publishers and it won't prevent companies from laying off people (don't use the DOW as any sort of metric - it's an over-reactionary one by far) - it might allow them to re-hire sooner, but to think that the stimulus is going to be some golden parachute is too wishful (as economic historians will attest to)...

It's unfortunate, but right now it's a matter of survival, unfortunately for those of us who've felt the painful edge of the axeman's blade.

Lady Glamis said...

What a blow. Sad, sad news. :(

Brian said...

Nathan - In your opinion, will publishing companies approach congress for a bailout?

CB said...

The market is plunging right now, after the Senate passed the stimulus bill with only 3 Republicans voting for it. The banks don't think it's enough money. Some estimates are up as high as 2 trillion. Watch out for your wallets folks.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

That’s it! With the state of the publishing industry these days, it’s clear there’s very little (or no) room for first-time-authors, and it’s not going to get better anytime soon. I’ve been working hard to build my author’s platform and my blog is getting international attention. Bloody hell, I’m drawing a line in the sand—I’ll publish it myself!

Coming soon (not to a bookstore near you): “Bastard Husband: A Love Story.”

abc said...

It's hard out there for a publisher. Three 6 Mafia's next big hit.

Marilyn Peake said...

Bane of Anubis,

I'm so sorry you were laid off. I don't think the bailout will be a golden parachute. But I do think that many large businesses actually have enough money to continue to survive without laying people off. My personal opinion is that a good, solid bailout and stimulus package will eventually work...BUT many businesses will be forced to change their business model. The DOW has been rising and falling as investors pull money out of some stocks and invest in others, depending upon which businesses look like they're going to survive this economy. Oh well, I don't want to turn this into a political discussion; just my opinion.

Dennis Cass said...

I'm curious if these layoffs will eventually effect the number of books in print.

Can a reduced staff effectively service the same-sized backlist?

Nathan Bransford said...

Dennis-

The backlist probably won't be affected much, and in fact I read elsewhere that publishers are now working hard to get the backlist into e-book form, even going so far as to hire people just to do that.

It's the front list that will continue to shrink. This essentially means one less significant place to send a nonfiction proposal, and it means correspondingly fewer books. Everything is consolidating.

MissViola said...

Vegas Linda Lou,

Thanks for your comment. The title of your book...cracked me up. :) I needed that today. We own a business, and yes, times are tough indeed. These are very scary times, and I just keep trying to stay positive and remind my husband that we need to focus on today, this month, this pay cycle, etc. I think that's what we all have to do, particularly those who are struggling to make it.

Anonymous said...

Vegas Linda Lou,
You are hilarious. If your book is as good as your post, you should be able to get published.

Dara said...

Things will get better. It's dark now, but the sun always rises. This too will pass.

It may take awhile; it may be painful, especially to those who have been laid off, but everything will get better.

The publishing industry will have to change and update their model, but don't despair yet. Keep writing.

I'm still an unpublished writer, but I'm not going to give up. This will not get the best of me.

Hard times often make us stronger in the end. It doesn't mean it's easy, but we'll all get through this the best we can. Worrying about it won't change matters and it won't make things any easier. The best you can do is try to have a positive outlook (it's hard, I know, speaking as someone who has a tendency to be pessimistic about things).

John Elder Robison said...

We're seeing some big names in publishing sent out the door in this recession. I wonder where it ends . . . .

Bane of Anubis said...

Marilyn, the reason I'm less than positive about the whole situation is b/c of precedence - Japan had a similar situation to what we're going through right now (back in the late 80's early 90s) and they did exactly what we're doing now - throwing money at it, which, on the surface seems like a good idea and will probably "soften" (I think that's the buzz word of the day :) the landing - Japan's recession lasted more than a decade (admittedly, a different cultural and business model, but other attempts to throw money at these cycles has proven less beneficial than expected).

Ultimately, as you alluded to, it's a crisis of confidence as much as a crisis of financial mismanagement/irresponsibility. The stimulus needs to be passed and financial institutions do need to be regulated, but doing so won't flip any switches -- hopefully it'll plug the dam somewhat, but that's uncertain.

As for the financial health of companies, I'm not so sure - I came from the semiconductor industry where companies are going belly up or operating on negative revenue quarter after quarter (big companies). These companies depended on credit flow and without credit flow bankruptcy followed or layoffs to ensure continued operation.

Things will settle to an equilibrium above where we are, but it'll be awhile (and it would happen without any stimulus, too, though more painfully). Hopefully, the stimulus will be more effective and will energize things more quickly than I expect.

Christine said...

As we all know from our history, no matter how bad it gets, we always come out on top again.

Such downturn is an opportunity for many of us who are still polishing our dreams. When the cycle goes back up, new blood has to flush into each industry to meet the new demands, publishing included.

Linda said...

well this sucks... this is such an incredibly hard time to try and get published..feels almost like swimming up stream. Sheesh...

Anonymous said...

So, in the end, will experienced, laid-off editors form their own e-book firms?

Will lap-top publishing transform--and ultimately save--the industry?

It's BarbS. signing off as an Anonymous because the system's not letting me log into my account.

Allegory19 said...

Remember when you could go to the grocery store on a Tuesday morning and it would be dead because everyone was at WORK? Well, I miss those days.

T.Anne - I'm hoping more people turn to books to escape. Should that be the new marketing pitch? "Fiction - way better than reality!"

MzMannerz said...

Gosh. Where is bottom? :(

dalecoz said...

Unfortunately there are quite a few reasons to think that the economy still has a ways to fall. My understanding is that housing prices are still 15-20% higher than historic average in relationship to income and average rent. They'll probably dip below historic average before they stabilize. Not good for banks. Also, spending less in this economy is a rational decision for most individual households. Of course if everybody does it, then the economy tubes. There are plenty of other reasons the economy will probably fall a bit more.

Enough doom and gloom though. Assuming that the people getting laid off are high quality, I wonder how having that kind of talent floating around will change the industry. Will some of them become agents? Will we see a transfer of talent to smaller publishers? Will some of them strike out on their own? Technology is lowing the entry barriers to new companies entering the publishing industry. If these people are talented enough and have a big enough name in the industry that might be an option. That assumes that there aren't non-compete clauses in their contracts.

ryan field said...

I wonder what backlists of the future will be like.

Amber Lynn Argyle said...

I just finished posting about this as well.

Nathan, How do you think this will affect those of us waiting to hear from HC on our MS? Also, will this change how many book HC buys?

Mira said...

This relates to the U.S. and please don't take this the wrong way. I know things are tight, and companies are laying off, and some businesses are closing. And I really feel for those without jobs.

But it's easy to get caught up in the National Hysteria that I think the media is feeding.

Perpective:

In the Great Depression, unemployment rates for non-farm workers was 35%.

The unemployment rate in January is 7.6%.

There's a big difference between 35% and 7.6%.

And we did come out of the Big Depression.

Again, I'm not saying things aren't tight, but I feel pretty confident that the whole fabric of our society is not unraveling.

At least not this week. I hear there are some predictions for 2012.

That reminds me - what ever happened to the Y2K bug? Did we make it through that?

Ink said...

Nathan,

Can I make a comment on the poll? I was just thinking that the people who like the new form are probably the people who stop by, read the blog, drop a quick message, and flit back out into the blogosphere or far distant cyberlands. I have a feeling that the regulars who like to hang here and follow the threads/conversations kind of like the old style format, as it's easier for browsing. Does that mean anything? I don't know. Maybe there's a way to get the icons on the new format? Best of both worlds... if I wasn't a techno-dunce I'd offer advice on how to do that. Sadly, I have honorary Gremlin status. But lots of clever people are always lurking around here, and some must be joyous technocrats, yes?

Just thinking via the keyboard...

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Nathan Bransford said...

Bryan-

I'm actually not too swayed by the icons, actually, because people will adjust to scanning for names (or using the a ctrl+F search) over time.

Although maybe I'm biased because I much prefer the new way.

Also, you may not be seeing as many pro-new way in the comment section because some of these people already registered their approval via e-mail when I made the change.

Anonymous said...

I think I agree with those of you like Mira who are less than 100% pessimistic (though it's not difficult to see why gloomy describes more than the weather today). But I think it will take ingenuity and hard work to fix things. E-publishing for example! Doesn't it hold great potential for revolutionizing writing? It certainly intrigues me, but I feel like I've been locked down, working on the wordcraft so long that I don't know where to begin in investigating the technology of publishing an e-book. I'm hoping sometime soon Nathan might be kind enough to share his thoughts on how new writers could break into this field. Or maybe some of you have some helpful links? One of my chief concerns is that the initial cost of kindles and other readers locks potential readers out of the market. Doesn't seem very democratic, in that regard. And my target audience is YA, so income really seems an even greater concern.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I posted about this a few weeks back, but we're kind of stuck in a transitional period where bookshelf space is shrinking via closing bookstores and existing bookstores buying few titles, and while e-books are an exciting avenue for the future, there is tremendous downward pressure on pricing and while e-books are cheaper to produce than, say, a hardcover, they're only marginally cheaper when you factor in advances, publicity, etc.

So while e-books do have a great deal of promise in opening up some of the barriers to publication, they're not yet widespread enough and too concentrated in a few key places for the publishing industry to really benefit too heavily from their adoption. Maybe down the line you'll see an e-book explosion that opens things up, but for now we're sort of in the worst of both worlds.

Ink said...

Nathan, you're very democratic. Nice of you to humour us. And maybe you get the deciding vote, since a tie does not seem unlikely at this point? I figure I'm equally likely to screw things up either way, so I'm fine.

Bryan

ryan field said...

If I were just reading this blog, the new comment section wouldn't be a problem. But I'm writing two to three thousand words a day and it's difficult for the eyes to adjust.

Maybe it's just me.

Marilyn Peake said...

Bane of Anubis,

President Obama mentioned Japan's earlier problems in his Press Conference yesterday. I feel like we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop, in terms of whether or not the stimulus package will be passed soon enough, and whether or not it will work. From the transcript: "I think that what I've said is what other economists have said across the political spectrum, which is that if you delay acting on an economy of this severity, then you potentially create a negative spiral that becomes much more difficult for us to get out of. We saw this happen in Japan in the 1990s, where they did not act boldly and swiftly enough, and as a consequence they suffered what was called the 'lost decade' where essentially for the entire '90s they did not see any significant economic growth."

Kristin Laughtin said...

Ugh. I keep hoping the economy will pick up, or that the layoffs will stop, but not yet, I suppose. We'll adjust and come out of it eventually, but it's difficult for everyone in the meantime.

In terms of publication, your point about being in the worst of both worlds is spot on. There's less space and money for bookstores to take on a lot of new print titles, and e-books just aren't popular enough yet to make up the difference.

Lupina said...

Fewer places for new writers to be published + ever-mushrooming numbers of new writers who believe they should be published = infinite galaxies of unvetted self-published books.

Perhaps there is some great flaw in my thinking that means I'm totally stupid, but if I were a techno-savvy entrepreneur, I'd be thinking about the next great way to select, edit, present and sell those self-pubs. And no, I don't think Amazon has done it with their POD model.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "If I were just reading this blog, the new comment section wouldn't be a problem. But I'm writing two to three thousand words a day and it's difficult for the eyes to adjust.

Maybe it's just me."

No, it isn't just you. It is harder on the eyes, at least for some of us. It's like one undifferentiated stream of words the new way, it kind of looks like a speech recognition medical transcription document. Your eyes have to swim through the words.

Oh well. Maybe it's just you and me both. All that white space. Yuck.

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine how irritated people are going to get when they start trying to wade through self-pubs, and try to pick out the good ones when you can put whatever you wish out there?

Anonymous said...

For some reason the new blog bothers my eyes as well. I post on another blog that is like the old one, and it is much easier to read.

Nathan Bransford said...

Sorry everyone, I think I'm casting a tie-breaker.

Also I really think you'll get used to it. It will be second-nature in no time.

Mira said...

Huzzah!

I'm sorry, I know many of you don't like the new format, but I much prefer it. I didn't like having to thumb through all those pages.

But I hope we can all still be friends. In fact, I believe we'll come through this blog layout disagreement and be all the stronger for it.

Thanks for taking a stand Nathan, especially since I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,
I'd say since it's your blog it is totally your choice, anyways. Us whiners will live. I will miss seeing your pic though, and Scotty's, and a few others. :(

Vancouver Dame said...

I agree with INK and Wanda B. -- I don't like the new method of commenting. It kind of spoils the experience. If you have such a close vote, doesn't that say something? The experience of sifting through the comments was more fun the old way; the new way sucks. It's your blog, but isn't listening to all your followers a consideration, too? Did the old way of responding to comments take you any more time? So is there any other reason to change it other than your personal preference? Hm-m-m-m. There's not much about the economy that hasn't already been said. When is the cutoff for the vote on the comments, or has the result been decided?

Vancouver Dame said...

Oh, I see I was a little late. Well I may get used to it, but I still think it sucks.

Nathan Bransford said...

Vancouver Dame-

Um. Listening to my readers is why I had the vote, which is basically completely evenly split. Can't please everyone.

Nathan Bransford said...

Vancouver Dame @ 2:54-

Um. Way to be polite about it, considering 50% people disagree.

zoewinters said...

That's awful for all the people losing their jobs.

And this is not a smartass question I'm really serious here. Is HarperCollins going to continue to be called that, or are they going to just be "Harper?"

I hadn't realized there was a distinct Collins division, so without Collins, I'm wondering if they'll still retain the blended name or not.

Nathan Bransford said...

zoewinters-

They'll still be HarperCollins. Harper and Collins merged a while back, but the Collins Division was formed relatively recently as a way of sort of resurrecting that tradition with nonfiction. Even then, though, the imprint HarperCollins still functioned with that name as did the parent company, and both still will.

Anonymous said...

the following is solely intended as devil's advocacy:

Well, I think the votes need to be weighted - people who vote for the new system may never have known the old system and thus would vote for the new system b/c that is the only system they know... Thus, to be fair, new votes should only count as 80%...thus tipping the scales to the old system :)

That being said, people who prefer old systems usually find new systems preferable once they've used them long enough, so perhaps those voting for the old system who aren't familiar enough with the new system should be discounted, too because their system experience is limited in scope, too...

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Honestly I think there's more tendency to vote for what you're used to, particularly with the "cold dead hands" book crowd!

I would have bowed to popular wishes, but I find this system so much more efficient. And besides -- if you want to follow a thread, just click "subscribe by e-mail." No scanning needed.

Sam Hranac said...

All heart breaking. I hope all those displaced by this do well.

T.R. Patterson said...

I feel terrible for those people who are getting laid off...I know what its like from personal experience, and remain hopeful for it to change. And it will.

And can I just say... now more than ever, out in the world and right here in Nathan's corner of the Blogosphere, people... things are changin'... Embrace it, what else can we do ??

I am new to the blog...I am not, perhaps, as entitled to weigh in, being that I only had the 'old' system of commenting for a short time. However, there is nothing wrong with the new system...its not better or worse, just different, and I can learn to live with that.

I have opinions on alot of things, but how we all comment and sift through comments is not one of the greatest importance... just sayin'..

Nathan - Great, great blog. As someone hoping to be published one day, I have found your blog a veritable mountain of information. Thanks for everything...

ryan field said...

It's really Nathan's blog and he should be able to choose what he prefers.

Scotty said...

I think Nathan's right, we'll manage. I'm already getting used to it, actually.

And this is not to start trouble, believe me, but I did notice that I was the last commenter at one point last night, and the vote swung fairly dramatically to "new" format until it landed square on 50-50. There were no new comments, just new votes. While it's entirely possible that regular visitors who comment just decided to drop by, vote, and leave after reading. Or, some readers who don't comment, evened the score. Maybe some folks came back later after thinking about it, dunno. But it's not out of the question to suggest that there were just random folks stopping by, deleting cookies, and playing games. I was in an online battle of the bands once, and I definitely learned that Internet voting can be fun for the whole family. Nathan may have more info on who stopped by, but I thought it was interesting.

Anyway, if the stimulus package can make more jobs, that means more books being sold. That said, I think I'm about to start pushing my two from my blog as I work on my next one. I'll sell them at a low, low price for download, and a slightly higher price for a printed copy and start bird-dogging the web. If I can get a following, then maybe I can get some attention.

Yay, Capitalism! :)

Jen said...

I feel compelled (sorry, Nathan) to say I only voted and didn't comment. I rarely, if ever comment, but I read every single day.

I'm sure I'm not the only one, either. *smiles*

On topic, I will say I feel terrible for everyone who was laid off. My own husband was laid off a couple of weeks ago...scary times.

other lisa said...

Oh, how awful! I loved Collins. They had such great reference books and the design books were really cool as well.

I know to some extent that consolidation can be a healthy thing, but my sense is, at some point you start cutting into muscle and bone, and I wonder if we're there yet?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Keep in mind - the new format doesn't mean NB likes the people who voted for it better than those who didn't...or thinks they are better writers...it's not personal...no reflection on anybody's writing abilities, etc...

Vancouver Dame said...

Nathan, you're right. Must have lost my manners somewhere. I'm glad that you do us the favor of keeping your blog current, and provide us with great info and lively discussions. Point taken. I'm practicing already using this new format.

Mira said...

Wanda - really?

I was sort of thinking that people who voted the way I did about the blog were good, and those that voted the other way were evil....

You're sort of confusing me with this nothing personal stuff.

Sigh. Life is so complicated.

Marilyn Peake said...

Interesting New York Times article about the restructuring of HarperCollins which is a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation: Article, "Harper Collins Lays Off 2 Top Executives", by Motoko Rich. Looks like News Corporation lost money due to a number of things, including possibly having paid too much for ownership of the Wall Street Journal: New York Times article, "News Corp. Loss Shows Trouble at Dow Jones", by Tim Arango.
Really interesting article about possible sweeping changes coming to print news, including New York Times possibly going totally digital, ending print production, and Rupert Murdosch's interest in buying the New York Times: "End Times" article by Michael Hirschorn in The Atlantic.

I imagine that Rupert Murdoch who owns a vast media empire in several countries will restructure a number of his businesses and purchase new ones as the economy goes through changes.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Sorry Mira :)

Mira said...

Oh, Wanda, that's okay. After all, what are writers for, if not to expand our horizons beyond the good and evil of blog layout?

Emotional growth is soooo difficult, but I'm sure I will be a better person for it.

:-)

Colorado Writer said...

It's not over. As a writer, I'm going to keep writing. Keep hoping!

Scotty said...

Don't look now, Colorado. I hear they're shutting down the dictionary and firing words. It just might be over, actually. ;)

Seriously, what more can you do but write and try other ways to get your work and name out there. I'm considering self-publishing again and bringing a stack of books with me onto a NYC street corner with my guitar. I'll play and see if I can sell a few. Maybe tell a few jokes. I'll stop short of the sandwich board, though.

zoewinters said...

Thanks, Nathan! I'm glad they're retaining the name. It wouldn't be the same if they didn't.

Marva said...

I think the message here is that writers can forget about getting an agent or a major publisher for at least a couple of years.

Nathan: Have you checked how to sign up for food stamps? Working on commission, can you even collect unemployment? Times are definitely tough.

I think the message I'm getting is that self-pubbing is a good thing right now.

Robert A Meacham said...

I am sad to hear about Harper Collins. I guess the wave of financial woes continue.

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