A Publishing Company Without People

Posted on January 23, 2016 By

In a popular seaside resort on the south coast of England, a small publisher thrived for a number of years. Priding itself on the high quality of its work, the company won the confidence of authors who came back with second and third books, assured in the knowledge that each manuscript would be carefully proof-read and edited, an attractive cover designed and a volume produced to the highest standard. Authors were invited to call at the office to discuss marketing promotion and together with frequent correspondence over a number of years, personal relationships were established. Then suddenly without warning, all came to an end.

Authors received a long letter from another publisher, based in the east midlands, saying that the small company had been taken over and would continue to operate with the same name but at the east midlands location. It was claimed that economies of scale, integration of operations, etc. would yield higher efficiency. No mention was made about people, and it was hard to imagine that staff resident on the south coast would want to move to an industrial city far to the north. In answer to a direct question, the CEO of the predatory publisher confirmed that none of the old staff was being retained. How could it be the same company if all the people were different?

To most people a company is a group of people in an organisation with a common purpose. A company of soldiers, for example, is one of the army’s smaller basic units of about one hundred and twenty men or women. Synonyms that have been suggested for company are companionship, fellowship and society, all words that are connected with people living or working together with a collective interest or purpose. However, another dictionary definition of company is ‘an institution created to conduct business.’ It came as a shock to be presented with the fact that a company can be just a registered name, a disembodied legal title.

The predator had acquired the company name, its bank account and all the contracts with its authors. It had secured all the legal papers and so had a legal right to enforce all the existing contracts. Yet one felt that in a moral sense the contracts had been broken. The people one had signed up to work with were no more, and one was given no choice to accept or reject the replacements. Books at an advanced stage of production were abruptly thrust into the hands of new people and the trust and goodwill built up over several years was lost. People: authors and staff, old and new, were of no account in a takeover war where a company was merely an institution created to conduct business.