September 5, 2011


A friend recently sent me an article about job cuts at the “LA Times.” The newspaper laid off all its freelance book reviewers and shifted some of its regular staffers — one who’d been with the LA Times for 23 years — and made them freelancers. Not only is their income drastically cut but they lose their health benefits, as well. If these events bode ill for book reviewers, it has equally dire consequences for publishers and writers, too.   

(photo: The Daily What)

At first blush, a small press writer like me doesn’t feel impacted by the “LA Times’” decision. I’m with an independent press publisher. My chances of getting my new book, “Trompe l’Oeil,” reviewed in a major newspaper are zero to none. As the big publishing houses scramble to promote their writers, they’re likely to look hungrily at reviewers who specialize in small presses. The cascade effect may well push out the attention small presses currently receive. 

Worse, what’s happening in the book world may be a harbinger of things to come in the entire economy. Highly skilled workers already crowd into positions previously held by unskilled ones. Not long ago I saw a Help Wanted sign in the window of a restaurant advertising for a dishwasher. A high school diploma was required. 

(photo: alexsmith_540)

Something else we are learning in this current economy is that cash is king.  Companies forego growth in preference to a strong bank balance. I’ve no idea where this brave new world will take us. But it’s obvious that if workers are to survive, they’ll need flexibility as well as skill. Two questions cannot be avoided: how far can those at the bottom of the economic ladder fall? How willing are the new fiscal conservatives to let that happen?