25 November 08 | Chad W. Post

This is the seventh part of a presentation I gave to the German Book Office directors a couple weeks ago. Earlier sections of the speech can be found here. There are still a number of parts left to post, but these should all be up before the end of the month.

Stage Three: Financial Collapse, the Borders Situation, Distribution, and Other Bad News

Over the past few years—and the past few weeks—a number of events have occurred that have shaken up the industry as a whole. Some are more severe and immediate than others, but each event is shaping what the future publishing world will look like.

Even if you’re not a consummate reader, it’s been hard to miss the steady decline in book review coverage. Across the country newspapers (facing their own set of challenges) have been laying off book review staff in favor of running much cheaper syndicated reviews, such as those from the Associated Press. In the past year, a number of standalone books sections — including the L.A. Times Book Review — have been folded back into the paper. Book review editors such as Teresa Weaver at the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Oscar Villalon at the San Francisco Chronicle have lost their positions. The New York Sun, which, for all its crazy off-the-wall editorial opinions had one of the most cosmopolitan arts sections in the world, ceased publication at the end of September. And the magazine scene isn’t much better. The situation is so dire that the National Book Critics Circle started a campaign to “save book reviewing.” From a publisher’s perspective, this decline is really bad news—the fewer outlets available for review, the more difficult it will be to get any attention for your titles. Especially when everyone’s reviewing the same twelve books . . .

Distribution is one of the key problems for all independent presses. It costs a fortune (rates such as 26% of net sales plus 4% of returns, plus standard storage, catalog, and set-up fees, are not at all uncommon) and despite everyone’s best intentions, giant distribution companies aren’t ideal for getting books into stores. When sales reps are responsible for selling books from more than a hundred presses, it’s physically and mentally impossible to know all the titles they represent and to be able to specifically pitch each of these books to bookstores.
Back in the fall of 2006, AMS—then the parent company of Publishers Group West—went bankrupt, and, as a result, stopped paying the dozens of publishers PGW distributed. And if that weren’t bad enough, this happened around the holidays, and PGW wasn’t able to ship titles to stores during the most profitable time of the year for the book industry . . . Eventually, Perseus bought PGW (they bought Consortium earlier in the year), bringing together an enormous percentage of independent presses in America under one roof, but not before some serious economic damage had been done. Soft Skull almost went under and was eventually sold to Counterpoint, and presses are still laying off employees because of the lingering effects of this collapse.

There’s no need to rehash the epic financial collapse that has rocked the world economy and is sending us into a global recession, but it is worth pointing out some of the more direct effects of this situation on the publishing world. First of all, uncertainty and recessions always kill advertising budgets. Companies take out fewer ads, magazines that rely on ad revenue suffer, and the whole publishing industry slows down. This is especially true in conglomerates that consist of a publishing house, a newspaper, TV network, etc. The media is fueled by advertising dollars, and the lack of advertising could send shockwaves through the publishing industry, on the balance sheets at particular companies, and in terms of further reducing outlets for reaching readers.

I’ve heard off-the-record stories about magazines being in serious financial trouble, and I’ve heard of publishers drastically cutting their list in preparation for tough financial times. [See the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt story from yesterday.] None of this bodes well for literature, much less literature in translation.

Comments are disabled for this article.
The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer
Reviewed by Peter Constantine

Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.

–(The Odyssey, Book I, line 10. Emily Wilson)

In literary translation of works from other eras, there are always two basic tasks that a translator needs. . .

Read More >

I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >