Maxwell Perkins Is Dead: The Decline of Commercial Publishing

In an industry that trades on rumors of disaster, the tales flying around New York (which I use here as a synecdoche for major publishing houses anywhere) for the past several years are horrendous. Though some of the horror stories may be exaggerated, at least insofar as the specific publishers involved are concerned, they are often not that far from the truth. Most publishers have enormous backlogs, and some books that have been in galleys since last summer have not yet been scheduled, may not be scheduled until next fall, may not be published for two or three years. Some of them might not be published at all. Recent contract cancellations, even of books in galleys, even of finished books, suggest that a book may not actually "be" a book until it walks out of a bookstore under a buyer's arm.

Moreover, rising paper costs, shrinking consumer demand, and the decline in independent bookstores are also putting the squeeze on the entire book business; and the situation is not likely to improve as more and more people turn to electronic media for their reading matter.

Because of all this, publishers are increasingly careful about what they buy, and they watch what they own with a strict eye. This eye, many writers would attest, is in the center of a publisher's forehead. Their regular vision, of course, never leaves the profit and loss spread sheets, and their ears are attuned for rumblings from the accounting...

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