A Time for Humility and Gratitude

recession-guy

No one in the publishing industry doubts that we are facing a very challenging environment. There are signs of a collapsing economy everywhere you look:

* There have been layoffs at some of the world’s best publishing companies, putting some very talented people, including some very talented editors, out of work.

The financial markets have cratered, with the Dow down more than 50% since the high of 14,000+.

* The huge insurance company AIG, reports a record quarterly loss of $62 billion today. This firm has received something like $170 billion in taxpayer money. This one-time powerhouse corporation is now selling for less than 40 cents per share.

*  Borders, the nation’s second largest bookseller, is in deep financial trouble. Its shares sell for around 50 cents per share.

There are other signs of the deep recession taking its toll on the publishing industry. Booksellers are routinely taking fewer copies of virtually all books as compared to previous years. This makes the publisher’s job of sparking a book onto the bestseller list much harder, since distribution has been hampered. On the flip side, booksellers reorder very quickly once a book shows signs of real strength.

With unemployment below 10 percent, low interest rates, and a presidential administration throwing trillions at the problem, we are not in a depression, nor likely to enter one. In the 1930’s unemployment was 25 percent, a far cry from where we are now or where we are likely to go.

As we begin March, the last month of the first quarter, I know I feel great gratitude to still have a wonderful job in the best industry on the planet. One of the keys to success in an economy like this is to work harder than ever, search out new and exciting opportunities, and to have the confidence that the books we are acquiring will mean real success for us going forward. That’s my viewpoint—the perspective of someone who makes his job acquiring books for my imprint. I also feel a deep sense of humility as well, as so many talented people find themselves without jobs in this very difficult time.

As I have mentioned before, however, I am a deep optimist at heart. I know we will come out of this stronger than before. Whenever we face a challenging environment, I cannot help but think of the business leader who predicted the end of books and the rise of the microcomputer. That happened in 1982, and this particular executive predicted the death of books in five years. Five years later, books sales were stronger than ever, and the only thing that disappeared was the executive who prematurely predicted the death of the book. For those in the industry without jobs take heart: the pendulum will swing back the other way and firms will begin to hire again. This has been the pattern ever since there have been books (with the possible exception of the 15th century, when monks made the majority of books but found themselves unemployed by the year 1500. Another great story taught to me by Peter Drucker).

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