Publishers are basically not buying any new books for the rest of the year (this happened after 9/11 too - they are bought up at least two years in advance), staff cuts will be made across the board, imprints will disappear and one of the two major book sellers may close their doors forever.
OK, so here's what I've been telling my interns and my junior agents and all my publishing pals. There are all sorts of economic trends coming to a head at the moment.
We, as a country, are in a recession and publishing is no exception. I believe we, as an industry, have priced books out of the buyer's everyday market. A paperback should cost $5, a trade paperback $10 and a hardcover no more than $20. Only exceptional illustrated books should cost more than that, and I better get pop-ups and die cuts and music, if you want me to pay more than $25. When books cease to be an impulse/feel good purchase, and are something you have to calculate and budget (I'll get the new King this month, and then I'll get the Hamilton out of the library), something is wrong.
And the profit margins in publishing are way too tight. I still find it amazing that in today's publishing economics, the author and the publisher make less on a book than the bookstore and the distributor.
Publishing is in the same transition as the movie and music industries. The younger generation of movie watchers and music listeners have already grown used to getting their movies and music cheaper and faster with downloads. If books are to compete as a source of entertainment, they have to follow course.
Bookstores will have to change too - and they already are. Last week I was pontificating that bookstores of the future will actually be big electronic information stores. And then someone told me that Barnes & Noble owns GameStop. Today I just got a flyer informing me that Best Buy is now selling books. Soon, you will go to an electronics and information store, where you can buy almost anything you can't wear or eat. And that same "store" will have an online presence, where you can download almost anything they sell.
That's not to say that the book as we know it is dead, but it does mean that for books as entertainment, it's a brave new world. In Japan, half the books sold in the country are downloaded to phones. We can't be far behind.
So, what is happening now is the beginning of the shake out that the music and movie industries experienced 5 years ago. Certain kinds of books (I guess, like certain kinds of TV shows and movies and music) just are no longer working in this age of instant information. So we just don't need to publish quite as many books, but what we do publish has to either entertain or inform.
When the shake-out is over, we'll be leaner, but stronger. Book publishing will have moved into the 21st century and will be more responsive to its readership. It won't take 18 months to go from manuscript to book, and authors will get paid on their actual sales in the same year they are made.