Pandemic Publishing News

A Publishers Weekly survey in June revealed that most publishers in New York anticipated bringing employees back after Labor Day, but that’s not happening.

Macmillan’s offices won’t open until January 11, 2021 at the earliest, but some employees will be al­lowed access to their Manhattan office on a trial basis upon request.

Simon & Schuster’s CEO Bob Bakish wrote in a memo that “at this point, we are assuming the majority of employees will not be returning to US offices this year…. Given the continued trajectory of the virus, we believe having fewer people commuting and gathering is best.”

Hachette Book Group has partially re-opened some of its offices in Boulder CO, Philadelphia PA, Boston MA, and New York NY. CEO Michael Pietsch told employees the offices are open “only for people with a strong desire or need to be in the office, and daily attendance in each location is restricted to 10-15 percent of office capacity.” He says they have no plans for further opening, and that the company’s “strong preference is for employees who can work from home to continue to do so, and we will not fully reopen any HBG office until we can do so safely.” Penguin Random House CEO Madeline McIntosh told US employees they should expect to work re­motely until “sometimes next year” in a letter sent August 3, 2020: “We will return when it’s safe and when it’s practical, and not before…. I know this news will settle in complicated ways. Even though you’re probably not surprised by the decision, it still may carry an emotional punch. We’ve all been so hoping that, by now, the virus would be under control and we’d be able to inch closer to our old normal lives.” She promises employees will be afforded flexibility “as it relates to both schedules and geography” even post-pandemic. In a recent survey, a majority of em­ployees indicated they are “interested in adjusting their work arrangement when we return, and even long-term post-pandemic, specifically related to how many days they will work in the office.”

Sourcebooks is also letting its employees work remotely until January. Those publishers consider­ing bringing back employees at all expect to do so in a phased way, many with extensive new safety protocols in place.

UK bookstore chain W.H. Smith plans to lay off about 1,500 employees as part of a restructuring in response to the financial challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. While sales are improving, they were still down 25% for July, and were down 41% in June, 65% in May, and 71% in April (online sales have been strong and steady). The company expects to report pre-tax losses between £70-75 million for the fiscal year closing at the end of August.

UK chain Waterstones also plans layoffs, with an unknown number of positions being cut at headquar­ters: “It is with great regret that Waterstones is to make a number of head office redundancies and is currently in consultation with those whose Piccadilly-based roles are affected. These are part of a number of mea­sures undertaken to align the overheads of the business to the level of sales now being achieved.” They blame poor sales in physical stores: “Notwithstanding the strong online performance of, it is necessary to reduce the cost base of the business to reflect the new reality of our overall trading.”

James Daunt is head not only of Waterstones in the UK, but CEO of Barnes & Noble in the US. He took advantage of the mandatory B&N store closures during the pandemic’s early days to redesign 350 locations. He’d planned the renovations anyway, but instead of the two years he’d anticipated, they were finished in under two months: “Every piece of furni­ture had to be moved. All the shelves were moved.” The result “is a substantial and dramatic change” that brightened the décor and rearranged categories. He also downsized, as previously reported, letting go of experienced buyers and cutting the corporate staff in half. Daunt doesn’t anticipate many permanent closures, though, and they’ve even opened new stores (in Sarasota FL, Shaumburg IL, and Rockland MD) this summer.

Creative Artists Agency has laid off 90 agents and executives and nearly 300 support staff (assistants, receptionists, and mailroom workers). This follows salary cuts instituted in April. “With greater visibility into the COVID-19 challenges of fiscal year 2021, we have made the difficult decision to implement workforce reductions, in addition to our ongoing cost-saving measures…. This is a painful and unprec­edented moment, and words are insufficient.”

There were vast layoffs at DC Comics in August, more directly related to the merger between AT&T and DC parent Time Warner than to the coronavirus, though that played a part. A third of the DC Comics editorial staff were reportedly laid off, including longtime editors and senior executives, editor-in-chief Bob Harras among them. A total of around 600 people were let go at WarnerMedia, and AT&T is reportedly (and somewhat bafflingly) planning to hire a general manager “from the world of esports” to run the comics division. Other elements of the DC empire also suffered heavy cuts, including merchandising division DC Collectibles and the DC Universe video streaming service.

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