Doubleday Sheds 10% of Staff

Recently on this site I have been reporting on the general downturn the global economy is having on the publishing world. Just a couple of weeks ago I reported on job losses at Lulu.com and unfortunately those losses continue as reported in the New York Times and many other news organisations.

The NYT story is here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/29/books/29book.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

What is of interest to me about the current trend, is the manner in which I have seen the publishing industry set itself up like a house of cards. When I was a kid, I used to sit in front of an open fire and spend hours carefully stacking multiple decks of cards up, one upon the other, like a gigantic triangle. The further you built this complex triangle upward, the more care you had to take with the higher levels of the great pyriamid. No matter how well you built the bottom level; no matter how many cards you used, or how careful you were, the top tiers were always the most precarious. In many ways, this is how the publishing industry has built itself. This precarious structure is built in a way that does not take into account the ‘thermal drafts’ of a fireplace, the unwanted grandmother, parent, brother or sister walking swiftly past. Anything can upset the balance in a house of cards.

Doubleday is a unit of Random House, which is, in turn, owned by a large German media group. Each tier passes down its own misery when the time comes. You can look at the structure in any business and see parts which are performing very strongly and parts which are, shall we say…weak at the knees, liable to tremble when grandmother shuffles past on her way to the toilet or the drinks cabinet. We can examine the surface of the playing cards all we want, the stiffness and quality, but ultimately, we cannot escape the shape of what we have created, and decide that it is time to ask why.

Possession is a measure of control in business, and control is a measure of weakness, doubt, and ultimately, foresight and limitation.

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