The book business as we know it will not be living happily ever after.
With sales stagnating, CEO heads rolling, big-name authors playing musical chairs, and Amazon looming as the new boogeyman, publishing might have to look for its future outside the corporate world.
“Welcome to our temporary home,” says 51-year-old publisher Bob Miller, ushering me into a colleague’s more inviting office. Inside, he and his staffers prepare to impart a cheery message: They’re going to fix publishing!
But first, a horror story. Debbie Stier, Miller’s No. 2 at HarperStudio (as this little imprint is called), has been collecting videos for their blog. “You want to see what happens to books after they go to book heaven?” she asks. On the screen of her MacBook, a giant steel shredder disgorges a ragged mess of paper and cardboard onto a conveyor belt. This is the fate of up to 25 percent of the product churned out by New York’s publishing machine.
Everyone’s eyes widen, as though watching some viral YouTube gross-out. “It’s like Wall-E,” says marketing director Sarah Burningham. “It’s depressing,” Miller adds. They had sent in a Flip camera with a warehouse worker. “You can see our books go through there,” says Stier. “The Crichton, the Ann Patchett.”