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Are Expensive Publishing HQs a Waste of Resources?

Amazon's London HQ: If they can get away with it, why not publishers?

Amazon’s London HQ: They can get away with it? But should publishers follow suit?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

Last year when Amazon moved into an impressive new headquarters in London, our publishing reporter Roger Tagholm suggested that the location, just a few blocks from Penguin and Faber and around the corner from Simon & Schuster UK, it was a statement: “publishing revolves around us now!”

Of course, Amazon is flush with, well…market cap, if not actual cash and many view it as an interloper hell bent on consuming the book business (still tbd).

Titles publishers, in contrast, are growing leaner and leaner as the market demands more and more production from fewer and fewer employees working on more and more titles. One would think that this might include their choice of real estate.

In his recent controversial essay “Don’t Any One Put Me in Charge,” bestselling author Hugh Howey went so far as to suggest that one strategy for publishers to survive and thrive in trying times would be to abandon New York City and its astronomical rents. “We’re looking for a low-slung building in an industrial center near a nice airport. Houston would be a good choice.”

Yet, today, as Roger Tagholm reports again from London, both Hachette and HarperCollins have moved into pricey new digs on some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Both companies are profitable and have the backing of large corporate conglomerates, but does this strike you as a good idea? Is an impressive office necessary to maintain the prestige of the brand, attract top talent and conduct day-to-day business? My guess is that they would argue “yes, absolutely.”

Would Howey’s low-slung building in Houston, or perhaps in this case, Nottingham, be a viable alternative? One that could cut overhead, allowing them to pour more money and effort into the books themselves? Granted, London may also be the media capitol of the UK, but doesn’t the internet negate some of that advantage? Or is it merely the price of doing business in big time publishing?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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  1. Charles Oppenheim
    Posted January 31, 2014 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    “HQ’s”?? “HQs” surely? Would have expected better from an author writing about publishing. But an interersting article!

    • Edward Nawotka
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 2:51 am | Permalink

      Yes, that was a brain burp and has been corrected.

  2. Posted January 31, 2014 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    There’s no doubt that particularly for fiction publishers these are difficult times and the industry’s fiction sales are far lower than a few years ago. And we publish literary fiction, much in translation! So like other publishers in our area, we need to be careful.
    We have certainly found that investing in author tours and targeted marketing makes more sense than having a London office at present.
    We work together in London for part of the week (except our temporarily Rio-based editor Sophie Lewis and our US Head of Publicity, Sarah Russo who is in New York) and it works.
    Would we like a London office? Would it make some things easier? Of course! But it doesn’t feel necessary the way it would have been 15 years ago.

  3. Posted January 31, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Difficult not to see these palatial premises (Amazon excepted) being at the expense of those publishers’ authors, the majority of whom don’t make a living wage. Given that the publishing industry is totally dependant on authors, it would make sense to give them a pay rise before all the good ones defect to indie publishing.

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