As the HarperCollins labor dispute rolls into a new year, the company’s unionized employee strike is now the longest in the union’s more than 80-year history at the top publisher. Since the initial employee walkout on November 10, the dispute has caught the attention of all publishing sectors, with many anticipating the outcome as a test case for how labor unions could change business operations. But for many publishing industry veterans, whether that change is positive or negative remains to be seen.

Indeed, some smaller independent publishers—mostly outside of New York City—are concerned that the public nature of the strike, with wage demands made public, is raising unrealistic financial expectations. Smaller publishing operations can’t afford to match wages at the Big Five publishing companies. Moreover, despite the double-digit profit margins that the publicly-traded publishers have posted in recent years, publishing is generally a low margin business. Sales gains during the initial years of the COVID-19 outbreak notwithstanding, the industry typically has marginal growth in annual sales, and “flat is the new up” has long been an unofficial business slogan. A lengthy, very public strike only adds to the industry’s challenges, with many agents and authors wanting the dispute to be resolved quickly and immediately so the industry can get back to business…

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