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HarperCollins cites 'unstable economy' in announcing cutbacks

February 11, 2009|Associated Press

NEW YORK — The wave of book publishing cuts has now reached HarperCollins.

The publisher of such authors as Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, Oprah Winfrey favorite David Wroblewski and Newbery prize winner Neil Gaiman has closed and dispersed a nonfiction division and a children's imprint and laid off what a spokeswoman described as a "small percentage" of employees.

"Over the last several months, the unstable economy has had a significant impact on businesses and consumer spending," HarperCollins Chief Executive Brian Murray wrote in a company memo sent Tuesday. "Our industry is not immune to these market forces, and there is increasing pressure on us, along with our retail and wholesale partners, to adjust."

The cuts were widely expected after HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., reported last week that its operating profit fell 66% to $23 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31.

Collins, a nonfiction division launched in 2005, and Bowen Books, a children's imprint formed in 2007, have been shut down and folded into other parts of the company.

Among those leaving are Steve Ross, who had worked on President Obama's bestseller "The Audacity of Hope" at Crown Publishing before coming to run Collins in 2007, and Brenda Bowen, a former editor in chief at Disney who had been given her own imprint at HarperCollins.

Also departing is Rene Alegria, who headed the Spanish-language Rayo imprint, and Lisa Gallagher, publisher of the William Morrow division.

A once "recession proof" industry is no longer as Random House Inc., Simon & Schuster and MacMillan are among the publishers who have reported layoffs in the last two months.

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