The ripple effects following layoffs and shuttered imprints

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From Nathan Bransford:

Yesterday I took the Surfliner down to Comic-Con in San Diego to moderate an excellent panel with film literary mangers and book literary agents on the state of publishing and book to film.

The vibes were noticeably grim. Hollywood is mired in strikes (which everyone supports) and book literary agents, already contending with things taking forever even when they work, are facing fewer people to send books to, with significant layoffs at Penguin Random House and an imprint closing at HarperCollins (more on this in a sec).

And AI is looming as a threat, both from the theft of tech companies using books as training materials without permission (the subject of several lawsuits), and publishers potentially outsourcing some functions all the way up to AI writing the books themselves. Publishers are indeed putting downward pressure on word counts due to the cost of paper, with one agent on the panel noting that publishers were balking at a 120,000 word count for a fantasy novel, which used to be totally standard. Some of these changes are absolutely pandemic holdovers, though agents suspect they represent the new normal.

But! The agents are still acquiring and selling. It’s tough out there, things are taking a long time, but readers are still reading and no one thinks AI can replace a good human any time soon. And it’s always been tough out there. There are no golden eras.

About those layoffs… Like several other publishers, Penguin Random House instituted a buyout program for employees over 60 years old with 15 years of experience, but they’ve now extended that to significant layoffs, including some incredibly successful longtime editors such as Daniel Halpern, leaving authors like Amy Tan in the lurch. The New York Times headline frames it as a “changing of the guard,” but that implies there will be some kind of a shift to younger editors who will step into these longtime editors’ shoes, and I am pretty skeptical that’s the case.

. . . .

This all is contributing to what I wrote about a few months ago about the vast game of musical chairs that’s going on in the publishing industry. Whenever editors are laid off and imprints are shuttered, not only do agents have fewer places to submit to and it’s harder drum up multiple bids that increase advances, but the remaining editors and support staff at publishers now have a huge amount of extra work to manage books in the pipeline they didn’t personally acquire, so they then have less time to acquire and oversee their own projects, let alone manage their incoming submissions, so things slow down even more. Authors who have lost their champion face an uncertain future with their new editor.

So while it may not seem at first blush like a huge deal for one imprint to close and some veteran editors to be laid off, the ripple effects can be extremely significant.

. . . .

Meanwhile, book merch is very much a thing that’s growing in influence, and publishers are putting a huge amount of care into packages they send to book influencers, which also raises some thorny questions that risk undermining trust in influencer recommendations.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG says the entire literary establishment continues to grow more cockeyed every year.

Does it ever occur to publishers to develop their own “book influencers” on social media? Is it actually that hard? Why can’t an editor be a social media influencer?

An agent should certainly be a social media influencer. For one thing, such an editor would be in a much stronger negotiating position with publishers if dealing with the agent’s authors carried with it the implicit benefit of top-level social media support.

PG says social media requires work and some native talent, but is it that difficult to follow book influencers for a while to learn what works and what doesn’t?

4 thoughts on “The ripple effects following layoffs and shuttered imprints”

  1. I’m waiting to hear the specifics of what the actors and writers want. To date it has just been generalities like “fair pay” for streaming and elimination of threats from AI. Makes me wonder how many writers are secretly using AI in the privacy of their own chambers.

    I have yet to hear how they want to be paid for streaming. With reruns, one could count the reruns. What’s the proposal for streaming?

    • For streaming they are currently paid per subscriber.
      What they want is 2% per view. Which is easily doable but even done honestly (this is still hollywood) would result in peanuts. The money they are fighting over just isn’t there.

      Believe it or not, for the first time since NBC took over, MSNBC had a rational report. On the strikes, why they’re fighting, what they want, and why neither side is going to get anything close to what they *need*. With charts and numbers!!!
      (The apocalypse must be nigh!)

      And that is just the big picture. Zoom in to the groupthink and audience disconnect and their fate looks worse. Biggest losers are looking to be Disney (who are misreading their problems in streaming) and Paramount who simply can’t afford to play the game. Survivors look to be Netflix, Prime, WBD, and, oddly, Comcast.

      TL:DR: The pandemic taught people that going to the theater is rarely worth it and that on-demand streaming of both new and back catalog content is. As the ripple effects of that filters through, the ad money is moving along with the audience money.

      Much like book publishing and the eternal backlst, new content now has to compete with the known good works of the past as well as the maybes of today.

    • Indeed. Many Americans are beginning to despise Hollywood as much as it does them. This will have profound consequences.

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