Book Industry Enters Shaky Chapter

Customers at a Borders bookstore.

 

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National Public Radio: The publishing world is still trying to absorb this week’s bad news: Several publishing houses announced layoffs or salary freezes, and a major reorganization at Random House left two major players in the business without jobs. All this comes as booksellers head into the holiday season — when 25 percent of all book sales occur.

No one thought that publishing would be spared from the current economic turmoil. But when the fallout from the Random House reorganization was announced on the same day that Simon & Schuster and the Christian publishing company Thomas Nelson announced layoffs, it stunned the book world, says Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly.

“It’s a microcosm of what’s been going on in the real world, as it were — I mean, in the larger world,” she says. “But I think, while many of these things were not unexpected, the kind of volume of them just was shocking and really sobering.”

Even as the bad economic news was bearing down, most people in the book business were trying to be optimistic. Books, they said, are recession-proof because they’re cheap. But Larry Robin, who has been in the bookselling business since 1960, doesn’t buy that conventional wisdom.

“In today’s world, it isn’t cheap entertainment anymore,” he says. “With the computer and with iPods and Netflix, I mean, you can get all sorts of other entertainment.”

Robin’s Book Store has been a fixture in downtown Philadelphia since 1936. But now Robin is getting out of the business of selling new books and will sell used ones instead.

“If it was a matter of hanging on for a year, I could do that,” he says. “But I don’t see it changing. I don’t see the economy getting better for a long time. I don’t see that economic model of a retail store coming back.”

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