In the midst of an economic downturn and a crunched credit market, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently requested that its editors stop acquiring books, Publishers Weekly reported on Monday. The temporary directive, delivered verbally to several executives, applies to the publisher's trade and reference divisions.
Josef Blumenfeld, vice president of communications for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, asserted that the halt was "not a permanent change," but did not indicate when acquisitions might begin again. He said also that an exceptional book project could still be passed to the editorial review board. "In this case, it's a symbol of doing things smarter," Blumenfeld said of the move. "It's not an indicator of the end of literature."
Some agents perceive Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's actions to be more ominous, with one anonymous agent telling Publishers Weekly that the acquisitions halt was "very scary" and noting that the climate of the publishing industry is the worst he has experienced. Agent Jonathan Lazear sees the move as treading in new territory for a publisher. "I've been in the business a long time and at a couple of houses I worked at, when things were bad, we were asked to cut back," Lazear said. "But I've never heard of anything so public."