“Books are back,” the New York Times declared recently.
While other media — film, network TV, recorded music — watch their businesses swirl down the toilet, “sales of general interest books are thriving,” the paper said in its coverage of Book Expo, the annual trade show that lured 30,000 book people to Gotham.
So how come there’s so much instability in the exec suites?
Last week Jonathan Karp shocked staff at Random House by announcing his resignation as editor in chief — just weeks after longstanding Time Warner Group topper Laurence Kirschbaum said he would step down at the end of the year.
The departures had book execs watching nervously for the inevitable troika. When the next one comes, it won’t necessarily be because book sales are bad. The bureaucracies of corporate book publishers give their execs enough reasons to want to head to the beach with a copy of “The Purpose-Driven Life.”
“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure in publishing, and the money is generally not commensurate with that pressure,” says David Hirshey, senior VP of HarperCollins.
Hard work, low pay and, increasingly, diminished perks — that’s the downside of working for publishing companies that in recent years have become ever smaller slivers of giant, diversified media congloms. Clearly for some publishers, it’s no longer worth it.
Says Hirshey: “Most of us are shallow and venal enough to make it in Hollywood, and just because we haven’t yet doesn’t mean there isn’t still time to sell out.”