FSG Feels Icy Bite in Publishing Freeze

pubcrawl 15 FSG Feels Icy Bite in Publishing FreezeThere were a few desperate hours on Monday morning when the layoffs taking place at Farrar, Straus and Giroux seemed like they were being carried out with an unsettling degree of spontaneity. To be sure, the staff had been living in fear of cutbacks for months (who hasn’t?), but the anxiety they experienced during that period was nothing compared to how most of them felt when they heard shortly after coming into work that longtime colleagues across the company were being pulled aside and informed of their redundancy. By 11:30, a rumor had shot through the building that a total of 15 positions would be cut by the end of the day.

The bad news came as a surprise to some, as it was only a week prior that John Sargent, CEO of FSG’s parent company, Macmillan, had issued a gravely worded memo announcing a salary freeze, which—while warning staffers that they might soon be hearing about “expense control and next year’s budget on a company by company basis”—made it sound like the freeze was as drastic a cost-cutting measure as Macmillan employees were going to see for the foreseeable future. The note ended with Mr. Sargent sheepishly wishing everyone “a happy and healthy holiday season,” which, however awkward a felicitation under the circumstances, did suggest, happily, that he would not be writing any more memos until the new year.

He did, though, and while the names of the fallen started trickling in quickly, many at FSG could not shake the fear that one of those 15 spots that was as yet unaccounted for would turn out to be theirs.

The collective trembling did not stop until after lunchtime, at which point Mr. Sargent, according to FSG spokesman Jeff Seroy, issued a staff-wide memo indicating that anyone whose job had been eliminated already knew about it. Panic subsided further around 3 p.m., when publisher Jonathan Galassi gathered his team and made the same assurances, and finally quieted on Tuesday morning when Mr. Sargent announced, in Mr. Seroy’s paraphrase, that “the business adjustments that have been made are the ones that are necessary to get us through to the other side of the economic downturn.”

As of today, Mr. Seroy said, “there are not people walking around this company waiting for more layoffs.”

Which is not to say the layoffs that have already been ordered at FSG were painless. Though the imprint will retain its own business department– to “safeguard FSG’s identity,” according to Mr. Seroy, by making sure their interests are represented when they don’t coincide with those of the rest of the company– their sub rights department is being merged with fellow Macmillian imprint Henry Holt’s, and their dedicated production team will be integrated into a much larger central unit. Both the head of sub rights and the head of production at FSG have been let go as a result of the consolidation. Among those cut out of the editorial department are associate publisher Linda Rosenberg, who oversees both the classics line and the paperback operation, and senior editor Denise Oswald, who started at the company as an assistant and has worked there for over a decade.

 

A FEW HOURS after news of the layoffs was reported, the lawyer and literary agent Bob Levine reacted with unmistakable despair.

“It’s like watching the dying of the industrial age,” he said, speaking with the authority of someone who specializes in publishing law and represents dozens of the industry’s most prominent figures on such matters as contract negotiations, job moves and severance packages. “All we get now is bad news and depression.”

Did he mean the emotional kind? Yes, he did.

“The people I know are basically the people who were at the top of the industry as it existed,” he said, before correcting himself. “As it exists, rather. Not as it existed, because it still exists. But as you watch week after week, the news just gets more and more depressing, and nobody quite has the solution.

“What I’m saying,” he went on, “is that the 20th century has been about the industrial revolution—the manufacturing of things and the selling of things. The things were books, and that period is ending.”