Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tin Soldiers

While Google is facing a major age discrimination lawsuit, it disheartens me to see a tangentially similar situation in publishing. This today, courtesy of Publishers Weekly:

Scholastic is in the final days of offering a buyout package to all employees who have been with the publisher for at least 10 years regardless of age. The offer for all but book fair employees expired July 18; due to pre-scheduled meetings, fair staff has until next Thursday to decide on the package.

News of the buyout offer comes after the disclosure by Scholastic last week when it released its fiscal 2011 results that it was "taking steps to reduce costs in non-digital areas across the business," while expanding its digital operations. It also noted that its forecast for fiscal 2012 excluded severance and other one-time expenses associated with restructuring actions.


Arrgh. How is offering buyouts to longtime employees similar to age discrimination lawsuits? Both are indicators of the increasingly-hostile business environment for older workers.

Sure, Scholastic is giving the option of a golden (bronze? tin?) parachute to their staff. It's far better than being one of over forty thousand employees summarily dismissed by Borders. But surprisingly, Scholastic is also being completely up front about their intentions - "taking steps to reduce costs." They are trying to clear the decks to either consolidate jobs (read: employees doing more than one job for the same pay) or hire younger workers to whom they can offer much lower salaries.

Employees eligible for this package could be only in their early thirties, having worked for Scholastic since their early twenties. Granted, the youngsters probably won't take the deal, but people in their late thirties and up will have to take a very hard look at it. If they don't go for it, they still run the real risk of being laid off (i.e. dropped with no parachute) at any time, and with especially bleak prospects.

It is very much in Scholastic's immediate financial interest to get rid of long-term employees, who both command higher salaries and require more expensive health care premiums (though that problem can always be solved by making employees pay more, if not all, of their own premiums). Of course Scholastic is jettisoning one of their most valuable resources: experience. But that's not something you can present to your shareholders or on a balance sheet.

I don't know why I'd have hoped that a publishing company that made a gazillion dollars off of the Harry Potter series might have more ethical business practices than Google. My starry-eyed expectations of the publishing world have mostly disappeared in the ten years I've been here (I'm eligible for a retirement package at Scholastic - not sure what I get at Tachyon!). Editors used to have prestigious careers with excellent prospects. Publishers used to count on an audience that wanted lots of high quality books. Booksellers were local merchants who had customers paying fair prices. Authors, well, it's always been tough for authors (and that's another post entirely).

Now publishing is yet another a business run by greed and fear. In the corporate world, we're all increasingly interchangeable or simply disposable.


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