The curious case of the midsized publishers

From Nathan Bransford:

Now that Workman has been acquired by Hachette and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been acquired by HarperCollins, where have all the midsized book publishers gone? Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly surveys this dying breed and cites the difficulty of building a backlist, the capital needed to grow into midsized publisher, and ongoing acquisitions by bigger players, but there are still publishers like Kensington who are holding on by focusing squarely on their niche.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG suspects that midsized book publishers are having the same financial problems as the rest of traditional publishing is experiencing. The small folk just don’t have the financial resources that the big publishers do.

When a little publisher is swallowed by a big publisher, those people working at the little publisher who aren’t fired outright get new bosses and any promises the survivors made to the little publisher’s authors disappear into the wind.

If a commitment is not inserted into a written contract, for virtually all legal purposes, it doesn’t exist. Certainly, it doesn’t exist for the big company because it took over the rights and obligations in the written contract.

That said, PG suggests that the big publishers are facing exactly the same market forces that battered the little publishers into selling out.

The Titanic will take longer to sink than a fishing boat.

Public Domain

PG apologizes for the sloppy Photoshop job, but he was in a hurry.

8 thoughts on “The curious case of the midsized publishers”

  1. A title sprung into my mind on reading this. The Adventures of HMS/USS Littleship-Publishing, done a la Hornblower, or in the future a la Harrington etc.

    Sharing to get the idea out of my head.

  2. Kensington and Baen are both distributed by Big 5 companies, Penguin and Simon and Schuster, respectively, so I’m curious how much their release schedule is controlled by outsiders.

    Simon and Schuster even has a Baen page on their site. A casual observer might think Baen is one of their imprints. And if Baen’s deal with S&S will survive the upcoming merger.

  3. But what if BigPublishing is the Lusitania, which went down in (from memory) around 20 minutes? In the current media environment of hostile action, that seems at least as likely as the Titanic scenario!

    Even more likely is either the Andrea Doria (outright incompetence by “top management” steered the ship directly into a collision, from which all of management was rescued and the only casualties were the midlist writerslower-fare passengers and union crewmembers)… or the Hindenburg.

  4. I worked for a mid-sized publisher that was taken over by a big publisher back in the 90s.

    It was not a fun time. It quickly became obvious why the big publisher had needed to find a successful mid-sized publisher to take over or else exit the (New Zealand) market: they were run by an accountant who had no idea about, or interest in, publishing.

    I took voluntary severance and counted myself lucky to have escaped.

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