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Tech Publisher O'Reilly Slashes Jobs 207

Posted by kdawson
from the more-with-less dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, geeky tech publisher O'Reilly Media has slashed 14% of its workforce, or 31 people. Founder and tech pundit Tim O'Reilly comments on the layoffs by exhorting people to 'get more with less.' According to the article, 'Just this week... both tech giant Google and book retailer Barnes & Noble announced their first layoffs ever. Other publishing houses, including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Random House, and Simon & Schuster have frozen salaries or cut jobs, or both.'"
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Tech Publisher O'Reilly Slashes Jobs

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  • All these companies keep beating up on Steve. One company is cutting him, another is slashing him, no wonder he looks so thin.

  • Tim O'RLY? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Big_Monkey_Bird (620459) on Monday January 19, 2009 @11:54PM (#26525197)
    Any more cutbacks, and they'll fire the Garamond typeface.
    • ...exhorting people to 'get more with less.'

      The first time reading that I thought it said employees were being exhorted to "get more with ass." Which I thought was either brutally honest job advice or a complete change of direction in the business plan. Or perhaps some bizarre hybrid. PHP Booty Call.

  • by DesScorp (410532) <<DesScorp> <at> <Gmail.com>> on Monday January 19, 2009 @11:59PM (#26525231) Homepage Journal

    "The Digital Media branch was restructured into one publishing division along with the companyâ(TM)s Missing Manual group, Oâ(TM)Reilly Technology Exchange and its Head First series, Winge said."

    Without actually seeing the company's financials, this could well just be standard streamlining for better efficiency, perhaps a proactive move before they're seriously hit. The story noted that they've been through much worse before, after they had to seriously trim their 300+ employees after the dot com bust.

  • News. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fishbowl (7759)

    Know what would be *news*? A report that some company's leaders have decided to bite the bullet and weather the storm. Not, massive layoffs, declaring bankruptcy, or trying to pass the problems to the consumer. Let's hear about a company whose execs are man enough to at least *try* to ride out this slump.

    I am already sick and tired of everybody using "the economy" as their excuse for everything. And I don't remember seeing an article about how O'Reilly for instance, tried things like cutting unnecessary

    • by XanC (644172) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @12:10AM (#26525301)

      Actually layoffs are pretty much all that do make the news, regardless of what else is being tried first. What you see are "Company X lays of Y workers". You never see "Company X keeps Y workers a little longer than they otherwise might have", nor do you later see headlines like "1 worker gets a job elsewhere" repeated Y times.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by N1AK (864906)
        KPMG is asking its workers to drop of hours (and pay to equivalent) of 4 day weeks or take a few months off at 30% pay to drop costs while demand is low, that was covered on the news. Story on BBC [bbc.co.uk]
        • by RobBebop (947356)

          drop of hours (and pay to equivalent) of 4 day weeks

          If only the rest of the economy could adopt this change. Imagine a world of 3 day weekends EVERY WEEK! If this were a universal change made in America, I predict the 20% drop in salaries would be met by sharp 20% drops in the prices of things we need to buy. Meanwhile, I cannot imagine a corrorlary drop of 20% in productivity. Surely there will be less productivity, but industrial efficiencies developed in the last decade have enabled most businesses to empower their employees to create more products in

    • This economy has been going on for over a year and half. These companies have already been weathering it for some time. Take advantage of it. Think of new ideas and work on a company for it.
    • Or is this just the first instinct?

      If they're managers of a publicly held concern, their first instinct is probably to do whatever supports shareholder investment. Because if they don't, the shareholders will put them out on the street.

      If they manage a privately held firm, that doesn't mean there are no shareholders -- just that the owners have a bit more privacy and, sometimes, can afford to take the longer view.

      In either scenario, the job of management is to run the company in such a way that it meets (or at least attempts to meet) t

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by fishbowl (7759)

        I think I'm seeing flaws in the whole corporate model, not just its current effects.
        I'm am not convinced that corporations should enjoy the protections they do, if they don't "promote a social good" as a primary motivation. Probably just saying this makes me a Marxist or something. People aren't really given much option except to live inside of the system that is controlled by the profit-driven 'corporate' mentality, and it winds up having more influence than any system of government ever has.

        As for 'putt

        • by qbzzt (11136)

          People aren't really given much option except to live inside of the system that is controlled by the profit-driven 'corporate' mentality, and it winds up having more influence than any system of government ever has.

          Find enough like minded individuals and start a Kibbutz. There's plenty of unused land in the US you could buy for cheap. It will be hard work, but the current easy life we have comes, to a large extent, because of corporations.

    • Re:News. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Moridineas (213502) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @12:54AM (#26525567) Journal

      Cutting costs (ie, sometimes employees) is exactly how companies weather a downturn.

      Do you have any idea how expensive it is to employ people? Obviously big companies have a lot more "extraneous" costs that can be cut, but many smaller and midsize companies don't run with a lot of fluff to begin with, and for many companies, employees are the single biggest expenditure.

      I work in publishing, in a small company (~20 people) ... we don't have elaborate travel costs, don't throw parties, or buy crazy advertising, the boss isn't some fatcat CEO, etc. Our biggest costs--printing books, shipping books, labor. Not a thing we can do about printing and shipping costs--they are out of our hands. Labor is about it. Apparently the employee insurance plan (which not everybody is on--some have their spouses, so maybe 10-15 people insured?) is running close to 100k a year. (that's one thing I would like Obama to fix!)

      Should also add that we've had no "redundancies" and doesnt seem like we will (heh, that's what everybody says, right?)

    • Re:News. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 2Bits (167227) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @01:42AM (#26525781)

      Ok, since you are asking, I'll give you my side of the story.

      We are a consulting, IT services and software development company. Not a big name, and we are very small. I'm the founder of the company. We have 30 something people. The economic problems affect us too. Projects in the pipeline dried up, as customers cancel or postpone indefinitely. Quite a bit of receivables suddenly become bad debts.

      We could have slashed half of the workforce, but I'm putting in my life savings, and borrow money to pay for the monthly expenses and salary, trying to ride the storm. We don't even cut any benefits, we even gave everyone a small bonus at the end of year (yeah, in cash, not a Gphone like Google did), and also paid for the annual health checkup (as we have done every year), when every other company has cut all these.

      Now, can I get the good publicity now? Can we be called a good corporate? Can we get more clients (eventually) because we are good to our employees? In fact, I'm not even sure that, once the economic slump is over, our employees would even be grateful and stay a bit longer with us.

      When the economy is good, we see employees jump ship for a 100$ raise all the time, and being so cynical at the same time. During a bad economy, when a company is trying to be nice, no one notice. As a matter of fact, a lot of people called us stupid too, because employees are ungrateful by nature. Sometimes, I just think being nice does not pay. But I'm just trying to do what I think is the right thing, and hopefully, more people or more employees recognize that, and have the solidarity that would allow us to get past this time. But telling the truth, I don't have high expectation for this, as I think it would be same old, same old, as the last recesssion in the early decade. We did the same thing at that time too, but that didn't prevent employees to be so cynical. Go figure. Some day, I'll have to learn to be "evil" too.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If you want to combine business with philanthropy, you're welcome to do so. However, you shouldn't assume that is somehow the duty of business owners. The businesses exist to make a profit within the bounds of law. That is not evil, hearless or cynical. That's the way things are supposed to be.

        Moral obligations apply to human beings, nonprofit organizations and the government. In fact, the only truly effective moral actor is the government. If the government (aka "we the people") decides that a corporate ow

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "When the economy is good, we see employees jump ship for a 100$ raise all the time..."

        Well, the idea of a company being loyal to its employees died somewhere back about the time Reagan took office. Employees have learned to respond in kind.

        Sorry if you're an exception, but what goes around comes around, even to those who didn't opt into the system.

        On the plus side, unless you're underpaying people to the point where $100 is make-or-break, you're better off without them.

      • We could have slashed half of the workforce, but I'm putting in my life savings, and borrow money to pay for the monthly expenses and salary, trying to ride the storm. We don't even cut any benefits, we even gave everyone a small bonus at the end of year (yeah, in cash, not a Gphone like Google did), and also paid for the annual health checkup (as we have done every year), when every other company has cut all these.

        Now, can I get the good publicity now? Can we be called a good corporate? Can we get more clients (eventually) because we are good to our employees? In fact, I'm not even sure that, once the economic slump is over, our employees would even be grateful and stay a bit longer with us.

        You have my sympathy and my respect. No good deed goes unpunished and I'm sure you will take some hits from this. However, I would like to optimistically think that the ones who jump ship are the mercenaries and the ones who remain will be all the more loyal for it. I know how hard it is to find good people and how wasteful it seems to cut them in the crisis of the moment because you could well be desperately needing them in six months.

        I would be terribly frightened to own my own company in this environment

      • Re:News. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @10:21AM (#26528953) Homepage Journal

        When the economy is good, we see employees jump ship for a 100$ raise all the time, and being so cynical at the same time. During a bad economy, when a company is trying to be nice, no one notice. As a matter of fact, a lot of people called us stupid too, because employees are ungrateful by nature.

        I could make a little more money elsewhere, but you couldn't pry me loose from this job. My boss hands me general outlines of projects and then gives me full authority and responsibility to finish them on my own. I can work from home when our babysitter takes a few days off without having to ask permission first. I have my own office with lots of personal stuff in it. The only time he has something to say about hardware purchase requests is when I should have bought stuff earlier instead of trying to make do. My boss didn't buy my loyalty with a paycheck; it'd take a lot more money for me to gladly do weekend projects for a company I didn't like.

        You sound like a good boss with your head in the right place. Yes, some employees will take advantage of this and then move on, but isn't that always true in life?

    • Re:News. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jalefkowit (101585) <jasonNO@SPAMjasonlefkowitz.net> on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @08:24AM (#26527763) Homepage

      I don't remember seeing an article about how O'Reilly for instance, tried things like cutting unnecessary expenses, reducing executive bonuses, or really anything imaginative at all.

      How Capitalism Works:

      When the company is doing well, it's because the CEO is a genius.

      When the company is doing poorly, it's because the workers are too expensive, too lazy or too numerous.

  • Fine economy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @12:12AM (#26525315) Journal
    No doubt things are going to get worse, with loads more layoffs. As it is, companies have been quietly laying off. For example, verizon, comcast, and qwest have for months doing layoff. But the good news is that lots of new companies will come out of this just due to necessity. We will see lots of new innovations all over the world.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by crazybit (918023)
      they are not firing people because the company cannot pay them, but because the owners of the companies don't want to earn less money this year.

      what else did you expect from capitalism?
      • by drsquare (530038)

        Why should they want to earn less money? It's their company and their money, and they can spend it on what they like. I'm sure whenever you own a company, you'll spend your life savings employing people you don't need, just out of the good of your heart.

  • by solder_fox (1453905) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @12:14AM (#26525327)

    Profit Margins in publishing are usually razor-thin. (The mega-blockbusters are the exception.)

    Barnes and Noble shows a 2% Margin, for example, with a 36% drop in stock price this year.

    It's hard to make a profit in books, even good books.

    • Then they're doing something wrong, when they only pay the publisher about half the cover price, and are free to return any books that don't sell. Going from a 50% margin to a 2% margin is a sign of poor management, not any inherent difficulty in the industry.
      • So, o mighty business guru, what's the name of the high-margin bookseller that you run?

        [crickets chirping]

      • by Carbonite (183181)

        Going from a 50% margin to a 2% margin is a sign of poor management...

        50% is gross profit margin, while the 2% is net profit margin. To get from gross to net, you have to take into account rent, labor, taxes, depreciation, interest payments, insurance and lots of other expenses. Perhaps there is some poor management, but 2% net profit margin doesn't necessarily indicate this.

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      I wonder the price of getting a novel from a writer+editor.

      i.e.: Let's say I have $x and want a novel from some author. I'd want full rights on that story, so I'm completely responsible of it's marketing and of getting a benefit from it.

      What's x for an author who, for example, has never written a best seller but has some minor prize on a previous novel?

  • by NateTech (50881) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @12:14AM (#26525331) Homepage

    Tim says at TFA: "The layoffs, which were spread across the company, were part of an overall reorganization to create more focus on some new opportunities, as well as a response to today's very tough economic climate."

    Cut the crap, Tim. Why can't CEO's just say it:

    "We laid of 30 people to save money so we don't lose the whole company. Sales are down, profits are impacted. If we don't lay off, we will die."

    Be real. It'd garner a lot more respect from the people you NEED supporting you.

    • by Merusdraconis (730732) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @12:55AM (#26525569) Homepage

      Because these sorts of layoffs are cutting out dead wood, and the economy is a great excuse. The whole point is that CEOs have already learnt that being honest about why someone's being fired is a good way to have people hold an unnecessary grudge. Obviously, you can't say that, because it comes back to them and they get to find out that the company felt they were astonishingly mediocre.

      People tend not to deal with evidence of their own incompetence well.

      • by NateTech (50881)

        So in one part of your sentence, you say they're cutting dead wood (something Tim never alludes to, nor do I in my alternative), and then you say the economy is a "great excuse", which is the whole point of both Tim's statement, and mine.

        I tend to agree with you, up to a point some layoffs are weeding the garden, so to speak -- but there's also a LOT of really stupid stuff going on right now, in the name of "preserving capital" at companies.

        What they want is to have cash in the bank at the end of bad quarte

    • by Dhalka226 (559740) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @01:06AM (#26525619)

      I don't know, it seems he said roughly that. He wasn't as blunt as you, but that last half of the sentence ("a response to today's very tough economic climate") seems to roughly equate with your comment about sales and profits being down and needing to fire some people. As far as saying anything close to "we needed to avoid losing the whole company," people don't say that because it's simply irresponsible. It will create a panic whether there is any reason to panic or not and drop the share prices if it's a publicly-traded company, all for absolutely no benefit.

      The first half of the sentence is no doubt an attempt to soften the blow of the latter, but it may (may, I have no idea) also be a glimpse into who was fired. When you're canning people for economic reasons, you can go about it in a lot of different ways. For example:

      1. The newest hires; this probably saves the least money (per job), but shows some loyalty to older employees.
      2. The oldest hires; this probably saves the most jobs because older employees tend to be paid more, but shows no loyalty and may throw out too much institutional knowledge.
      3. Management. This is similar to #2, but may include some higher-priced newer hires. It also risks losing institutional knowledge, and is harder to project the real benefits from it because there likely will be some sort of reorganization costs involved when people are suddenly reporting to a new person and perhaps have new requirements or responsibilities.
      4. The highest-paid people. This will be similar to a combination of 2 & 3.
      5. Some specific sub-set of people, usually a specific team or division. As a really contrived example, this would be something like a car manufacturer firing the SUV team because they don't plan to make SUVs in the near future. (Yes yes -- they can probably do other things equally well, work with me!)
      6. Probably others that aren't coming to mind right now.

      If the first half of the statement has a deeper meaning, it sounds like he's saying they chose #5. They fired some people because they had to fire some people, yes, but the people they chose were presumably ones who fit into a business model they're moving away from going forward.

      These people are, in part, professional wordsmiths. They may try to couch what they're saying in more comforting terms, for good reasons or bad, but there's always a value to seeing what specific words they chose.

      • by NateTech (50881)

        Why "presume" all of this? This is my point. Yes, I was purposefully blunt to get some discussion going and a reaction... not a troll, just enough to get people to engage brains.

        But here's the thing... if you're having to guess what and why they did it, then he really was mealy-mouthed. Why don't the shareholders demand truthfulness of the executives in words a high-schooler can understand?

        The words they use when they're giving bad news sound like the types of statements that come out of academia, and th

    • by Fluffeh (1273756)
      And if you said that in those words your stock price would fall quicker than the jaws of the press you just said that to.

      Part of being a CEO or similar is to learn to make positive things sound better than they really are - and to make downright terrible things sound like actually pretty good.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by chromatic (9471)

        And if you said that in those words your stock price would fall quicker than the jaws of the press you just said that to.

        That's irrelevant in this case; O'Reilly is a privately held company.

      • by NateTech (50881)

        One of my points. Is he paid for the stock price, or is he paid to lead the company?

        Incentives are all wrong in most public organizations these days. CxO's are paid for the wrong behavior.

    • Tim O'Reilly on truth drugs:

      Folks, dead-tree publishing is hardly the wave of the future. People don't even buy our reference works any longer, they just google. We can sell them more tutorial works, and we can make money from advertising coupled with online references only if ours are consistently better than everyone else's, because there is no shortage of online references for computer software and languages. Half of you do things we don't have much use for any longer. We've got to radically redirect

    • More like... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149)

      "The federal government is about to near double the deficit in a single day, we're not one of the companies that won that lottery, and we have no idea what will happen to the economy (or our tax rate) as a result. Heading for the bunkers and seeing how long we can hold out".

      Remember that actual spending and wages are not down that much yet - companies are cutting back big time in anticipation of something much worse ahead. Though your end motive is right, they are just trying to do what they can to keep t

      • by NateTech (50881)

        Well put. That'd be another honest announcement.

        No one wants to look like they against the new leadership in any way though, so I can see why they'd avoid that one.

        They might still have a chance that our elected officials could literally print money to throw at them, if they don't mention what really just happened in D.C.!

    • by svnt (697929)
      What are you on about, he said it right there in the quote:

      "The layoffs, which were spread across the company, were ... a response to today's very tough economic climate."

      It's just that the people he interacts with daily are smart enough to figure the rest out without bitching about it.

  • by solder_fox (1453905) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @12:19AM (#26525365)

    There are a few big publishing houses that print a tremendous percentage of our books. Fewer than there were a few years ago, due to consolidation.

    But at least one of the six major houses has stopped purchasing new books from authors, either completely stopped or near-completely stopped. Times are tough for everyone but bankruptcy lawyers. (And their times are tougher when ours are better.)

  • I have a large bookshelf of IT tech books, mostly O'Reilly, but they are all gathering dust.

    Whenever I need some technical information,I just google it, and it appears instantaneously. For items that are new to me I look for an online tutorial. Why ruffle through the contents and index of a book, often more than once, to find information.

    I can't remember when I last bought a new tech book.

    Bookwormhole.net [bookwormhole.net] -- over 7000 published book reviews.

  • ... when it's convenient to do so (i.e., bad economy) just to trim the fat, whether they need to or not. Some companies just trim every couple years just to streamline. I'd like a company to have the balls to say "hey, we could weather the storm, but we owe it to our shareholders, NOT our employees, to make them money."

    Not that I don't think it's shitty, but some honesty would be nice.
  • Now Jobs will have to stab O'Reilly with a broken bottle.

  • Tim's H-1b Theory (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Baldrson (78598) * on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @02:29AM (#26525989) Homepage Journal
    So, Tim, how is that H-1b theory of yours working out? You know, the one you promoted around March of 2000 where you said something to the effect that there are 5 jobs created for every H-1b visa.

    Guess there just weren't enough H-1b visas issued, huh?

    • by qbzzt (11136)

      Guess there just weren't enough H-1b visas issued, huh?

      Companies decided it's cheaper to offshore. The five jobs are still being created, they are just being created in India.

  • Didn't Google just a month or so ago report record profits in spite of the downturn and are yet cutting staff?

    Are companies really slashing staff because things are looking bad or do many that are doing just as well as ever see this as an excuse to try and slash some dead weight without too many questions being asked? Or is it just because they think despite profits being up now things are going to get worse and they want to prepare?

  • Is he ok?
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