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Parsing Black Wednesday

One of the worst weeks in U.S. publishing history has left the book trade facing a grim tally. Just to sum up, on Wednesday three of the biggest publishers south of the border announced massive restructuring and/or job losses: Simon & Schuster laid off 35 employees, or 2% of staff; the Nashville-based Christian publisher Thomas Nelson cut 55 jobs, a whopping 10% of its workforce; and the behemoth Random House folded five divisions into three, eliminating the jobs of two top staffers, with more rounds of layoffs seemingly unavoidable.

Now, more bad news is emerging for the industry, with HarperCollins and Pearson, the parent company of Penguin, announcing immediate wage freezes. (Pearson’ decision will presumably affect some Canadian employees.) The Associated Press reports:

This is the most challenging economic environment that any of us has ever experienced, Penguin Group chairman John Makinson wrote in a company memo that circulated Thursday, in which he announced that raises worldwide would be held off for Pearson employees making $50,000 or more and said he could not promise there would be no job losses in 2009.

Meanwhile, things are going from bad to worse at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which announced a freeze in new acquisitions last week. The firm has just announced more layoffs as it streamlines its educational division.

To give you a sense of the chilly atmosphere, GalleyCat has posted an e-mail from a senior level staffer affected by HMH cuts, who says that nearly 200 employees are being let go. The memo warns things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better:

The adult trade division has been crippled to the extent that books in production cannot be attended to and are now frozen, something that I’ve never heard of before (and this is my third layoff in a twenty-year publishing career). Many here are surmising that the adult trade division is rapidly being dismantled and discarded.