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NY publishers’ descent from the high life

In the New York Times, Motoko Rich looks at the dying glitz and glam of the publishing world, which, according to Rich, once “came with a milieu that mixed cultural swagger with pure Manhattan high life.”

Stark contrasts are drawn between company parties past and those planned for the future: Macmillan, which announced mass restructuring and layoffs in mid-December last year, will trade their Hotel del Coronado spring list meeting venue for meetings via webcam. Simon & Schuster cancelled its holiday party, while one division of Random House had pizza and beer in a cafeteria room. Other “glittery and cozy traditions” of the industry that are being clamped down upon are flights, hotel bills, cocktail hours, and, of course, the lunch tabs.

Nobody expects one of the staples of the business ” the long lunch ” to die off completely because of these straitened circumstances. But publishers, editors and literary agents, who have often been among the best diners in the city, are now reconsidering their favorite restaurants.

Besides the flash, though, other aspects of the publishing business are being examined, like distribution of advance print galleys, the return of unsold books by retailers, and cash advances for authors.

At HarperCollins a new unit is experimenting with a model that substitutes profit sharing with authors for cash advances and eliminates returns of unsold copies from booksellers.

Jonathan Galassi, publisher of the literary powerhouse Farrar, Straus & Giroux, said the custom of accepting returns from booksellers was created during the Great Depression to persuade bookstores to take more copies. In a moment where getting people to put stock in a store of anything, not just books, is harder because of the money it costs to front them, Mr. Galassi said. I think it might be counterproductive to have a return-free business at this point.