Just like non-literary businesses, the vast majority of publishing companies are currently owned by large conglomerates. ”Name” publishers, already serving as parasols for groups of smaller imprints with lesser glory and for so-called boutiques, are owned by even larger umbrellas. I learned from a fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times (Tom Engelhardt, “Closing the Book,” Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008, A38, www.latimes.com) that Simon & Schuster, a long esteemed publishing company, is owned by CBS; and many other long-established American publishers are owned by huge German (Random House is owned by Bertelsmann AG) or other foreign multimedia conglomerates (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, U.S. companies who merged their debts, but it didn’t help, are owned by an Irish firm, Education Media, that has frozen further acquisitions).Complicating the financial picture for publishers is that the books they compete to produce, hopefully for profit, are then sent to mammoth bookstores who are free of responsibility to sell the books they've ordered. They simply send back any unsold books to said publishers. It’s no longer news that large publishers maintain two warehouses, one to ship books out, and another to receive them back. Once the books are returned to the receiving warehouse, the covers are removed and destroyed, and it is illegal to sell them. What was originally planned as an incentive to booksellers has turned into a disaster for the publishers, not to mention the writers of the returned books. Furthermore, as the Internet takes over book sales, and the huge bookstores who previously gobbled up little bookstores find their own sales diminished, it's a no-win situation for everyone – because, with the economy continuing to tank for an unforeseeable future, Internet sales of books are declining too. Thankfully, it's still a reading world. People are reading more than ever online, vast amounts of copy, in fact. They're just not reading books. I wonder if the new electronic reading machines like Amazon's Kindle will really stimulate more book reading, or if downloaded e-books will finally make the grade in popular consumption. Right now, with major newspapers beginning their slide into bankruptcy, the Internet is King. As for me, I have just written my first article using a voice-recognition tool called Dragon NaturallySpeaking, version 10 (a Hanukah gift from my daughter and son-in-law). Actually, I have half written, half spoken these lines because I'm much faster typing them than speaking my thoughts to a computer at this moment. It will be fascinating to see if I can relieve my frozen shoulder and release my thoughts at the same time. I don't text message from a handheld (I still create and receive e-mail on my laptop), but at least, technologically speaking, I'm moving on. And I'm thinking of buying an electronic reading machine. Hmm! Gotta help the economy, right? Why not buy a writing or reading tool now? For Christmas or Hanukah. And a few good books. Go on, spend a little.
Happy holidays, everyone! Looking forward to a great 2009!