Fewer book publishers hurt writers and readers

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Regarding your August 3 editorial “Putting Authors, Readers First in Decision on Big Publisher Merger:” In 1999, I went to New York the day my novel, “Hard Time,” was published only to find that everyone at Delacorte Press was fired that day, including my editor, who had sworn to keep quiet before the public announcement.

German publishing giant Bertelsmann had acquired Bantam Doubleday Dell, which itself was a consolidation of these three presses. They kept the Delacorte imprint but none of the employees. I continued to have a lucky career, with an editor at William Morrow and Co. who backs my sometimes controversial books, but most mid-list writers aren’t so lucky.

Bertelsmann then acquired Random House and Viking Penguin. All these companies are now part of a single entity. It’s been bad for readers and writers and for people who work in the industry. Every time publishers merge, they cut jobs in every field. In a recent merger between Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, they cut 1,200 jobs.

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The number of books published isn’t decreasing, but publishers and publicists are now managing many more titles and can’t give most of them the attention that every writer deserves.

When big media companies like Disney started buying publishing in the 1990s, they changed the culture of publishing. These consolidations marked the beginning of seven- and eight-figure advances for a handful of writers. The number of books purchased by the average reader remains fairly constant.

To recover these advances, publishers must devote the bulk of their advertising budgets to their stars. This distorted advertising in an attempt to create blockbusters from the most expensive titles. Readers can buy these blockbusters, but they won’t be looking for more restricted books either. And most books are published in small quantities.

When I was president of Mystery Writers of America, I was shocked to learn that most of my writer siblings on the board made $3,000 a year or less from their books. Consolidation benefits a few stars, and it benefits conglomerate shareholders. But that doesn’t help industry workers or writers.

Sara Paretsky, best-selling author, Hyde Park

CTA needs more diesel buses

Canceling Chicago Transit Authority plans to invest in more new diesel buses, as some suggest, is the worst possible idea. This would only guarantee passengers less reliable or even reduced service as the fleet ages. It could also result in higher fares for riders as the city scrambles to keep buses going.

CTA’s aspirations for an all-electric fleet by 2040 are laudable, but must be tempered by fiscal and practical reality. First and foremost, the mission of public transport is to provide affordable, available and reliable public transport.

The technology best suited for this today is diesel. Illinois leads the nation with a new diesel-powered transit fleet. According to the latest data, Illinois ranks 7enationally for the number of new advanced technology diesel city buses in service, with more than 57% as of 2011. These buses achieve near-zero emissions. They are also more fuel efficient than older models, saving the city money.

As with electric buses, the fuels that charge the buses must be considered. According to the US Energy Information Administration, 30% of Illinois’ electricity comes from burning natural gas and coal, rather than renewables.

To step up the fight against climate change, electrification is not the only solution. CTA can also expand its use of advanced renewable biodiesel fuels grown on site. Last year, 168 million gallons were produced in the state. These reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-80% and immediately reduce particulate matter, as well as other smog-forming compounds, across the entire fleet. That’s without new buses or refueling infrastructure.

If electric buses are a good fit, they can be adopted if time and funding allow, and not at the expense of routine fleet turnover. The greatest benefits will be achieved by phasing out the oldest buses and replacing as much as financially possible with the newest diesel buses.

Not only will this control operating costs and stabilize service, but it will also provide the most emissions, transportation and environmental equity benefits to customers in Chicago and the 35 communities served by the CTA.

Allen Schaeffer, Executive Director, Diesel Technology Forum

Key questions to ask candidates

As our electoral process prepares and eyes are on 2024, there are three questions I want every candidate from all parties to answer unequivocally. No rhetoric about committees, focus groups, or extenuating circumstances, just a heart-and-character response:

1. Is Joe Biden the duly elected President of the United States?

2. Do you believe that every woman should have the right to choose her own pregnancy?

3. Will you work to ban assault rifles from civilian hands?

In the polls I’ve seen, the majority of Americans would answer “yes” to all three. So why don’t our representatives and our candidates understand? Questions should be asked directly so that the clarity of our voting choices is clear.

James Conroy, Near East

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