Textbook Disruption

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the educational and trade publisher in Boston, has entered the process for filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In an e-mail to employees, Linda K. Zecher, the president and chief executive of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, promised that day-to-day business would continue as usual, calling the reorganization “positive news.”

A shift from “desperate” to “grim” could be considered “positive news,” depending on where you sit. In the digital age, short and expensive publication runs are no longer necessary or justifiable. Self-published authors can arrange for just-in-time publication at very reasonably prices and margins. Print runs are one book at a time. Add to this the need and desire to have intellectual material updated at more frequent intervals and the print textbook looks less and less desirable. Digital textbooks can be updated practically on the fly. And carrying around several dozen textbooks on a single tablet is far more preferable than the old school method of stuffing them into a backpack. Leave exercise like that for basic training.

Yet for Ms. Zecher, business will “continue as usual.” This positive news for HMH may be short lived.