Avi WordCraft blog

When publishing houses get bigger

fish swallowing fishI have learned that one of the companies I publish with was sold to another publishing company half a year ago. 

Today—six months later—was the first time I heard about it. 

This has happened—over my publishing years—a good number of times. When it does the writer gets an impersonal e-mail (as I did today) from some top executive whom I’ve never heard of before. In that letter, the writer is always told two things: that the buying up of one publisher by another is a good thing for the world of publishing, and that it is a good thing for writers. 

I don’t think either is true. I believe that when this happens:  

A fair number of publishing people lose their jobs. (Some of them are friends.) 

The number of functioning editors becomes less. 

The mission of the swallowed publishing house also gets swallowed. 

It creates less diverse publishing.

Back lists are reduced.

There is a period of confusion and reorganization which disrupts lines of communication between author and publisher. This can go on for a good while.  

The productive relationship between author and long-term editor, marketing people, production people, and so forth is often broken and/or disrupted. 

The number of independent publishers diminishes. 

That means the publishing options for the writer are reduced. That makes it harder for writers to make a living. 

It becomes harder for new writers to publish. 

As publishing lists get longer there is marketing for fewer books. 

As publishing houses get bigger they become increasingly dependent on “blockbuster” books. 

This dependence on blockbusters—like the WWI bombs they are named after—is just as destructive of the diverse world of publishing. 

These mergers and acquisitions are about increasing publishing profits. That’s okay. Just don’t tell me it’s good for me.  

That’s fiction.  

2 thoughts on “When publishing houses get bigger”

  1. Oh, I agree with every word of this Avi. My first book was published in 1978 by Lippincott. Before the second book came out in 1979, Lippincott had been bought by Harper-whatever-they-were-calling themselves-back-then. In the four decades since I have been through more of these events than I care to recall – and not once (NOT ONCE!) has it turned out to be a net-positive for the writers, or the editorial staff.

  2. Thanks for your honest thoughts! As a small press published author I keep my fingers crossed that small presses will stay small and get the recognition they deserve. It’s very hard to break into these larger houses with, ironically more people but less time for writers.

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