Houghton Mifflin Harcourt files for bankruptcy

It's a busy day out there in Webland! For starters, the New York Times reports that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is filing for bankruptcy--the Chapter 11 kind, not the "Th-th-th-that's all folks!" kind, so course the CEO is saying it's "positive news" and that employees certainly shouldn't start mailing out their resumes RIGHT NOW.

Everything's fine! It's just bankruptcy! I'm sure when the private-equity firm took on an unbelievable ton of debt, employees were told that that was nothing to worry about! And when Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt were combined, employees were told that consolidation is certainly NOT the mark of a shrinking industry, and that it was nothing to worry about! And when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stopped taking on new books--nothing to worry about! At all! Everything's going great! The future is ours!

Ah, yes, it brings back memories.... The first publisher I worked for stopped contracting new books, too. I started looking for another job. (Doesn't that make me sound like I am immune to denial? I didn't actually realize what was going on until after I had a conversation with someone I was encouraging to move elsewhere. That person was not convinced to jump ship, but I sure was!) I found one, turned in my letter of resignation, and got REAMED OUT for my treachery and stupidity. Why was I leaving? I was so dumb! NOTHING WAS WRONG!!! Ten days after I left, they shuttered the New York office. (I don't resent the person who reamed me out--it was just another example of denial at work.)

What am I trying to say? If you work in traditional publishing, no matter what soft soap your boss is selling you, you need to get ready. Actually, you should already be ready--publishing has never been anything but a volatile industry--but you need to start thinking about a world without a traditional publishing industry in it. No matter what they tell you, publishers are NOT optimistic--they would not have attempted price-fixing if they were.

Will publishing services still be needed? Oh, yes. It's just that the way you do your work--who hires you, how you find work--is going to change immensely.