Good morning. It’s Tuesday. Today we’ll look at another sign that New York City is going back to its prepandemic routines: Housing courts are once again hearing eviction cases. We will also look at book publishing and its role in the city’s economy.
The wheels of justice may be turning slowly, as the oft-quoted rule says, but they are turning again in New York City housing courts.
The city’s housing courts used to hear more eviction cases than comparable courts in other cities. The pandemic changed things: New York state imposed a moratorium on evictions. Lawmakers kept extending it long after other state and federal eviction protections ended.
The New York moratorium eventually expired in mid-January, and more than 500 tenants have been evicted since February, according to city data. My colleague Mihir Zaveri says that was about double the number of the previous 20 months combined, going back to mid-2020, when New York’s coronavirus cases dwindled after the devastating first wave.
[After a Two-Year Dip, Evictions Accelerate in New York]
The number of evictions is still below prepandemic levels. But after the pandemic pushed thousands of people to the brink of losing their homes, the uptick is raising questions about how well the housing system can prevent a wider crisis of disruption — and not just as rents rise again. Tenant advocates say a crucial new protection, a free attorney for every low-income tenant sued in housing court, has already reached breaking point.
Several nonprofits tapped by the city to represent tenants are battling staff shortages and say they are unable to meet the need. Legal Services NYC struggles to hire new attorneys to fill vacancies created by layoffs in a tight job market. “Right now, we’re doing our very best to catch every May graduate who doesn’t have a job,” said Raun J. Rasmussen, the group’s executive director.
Legal Services and the Legal Aid Society, another non-profit organization, have called on the courts to slow down the planning and pace of cases moving through the system. But Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the courts, said last week that a delay would “do nothing” as new cases would continue to pile up.
It will be a mostly cloudy day with temperatures around the low 60s. There will be rain and fog late at night, when temperatures dip below 50.
parking on the other side
Suspended today and tomorrow (Eid al-Fitr).
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New York, capital of the book world
Book publishing is very much a New York affair. All of the largest publishers are based here, along with many of the smaller ones — 224 in all, according to Labor Department data cited by James Parrott of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.
According to data from the Labor Department, some 32,000 people work in the publishing industry in New York City – a fraction of the number who work in the financial or technical sector. Some in the industry have moved during the pandemic, but most of the editors and agents are still there.
How important is publishing to the city’s economy? Parrott told me by email that “book publishing as an industry is far more important to the New York economy than how many people are directly employed or what their total wages are.” He also said that book publishing is “inextricably linked to the city’s status as an international cultural capital and the enormous activity that comes with it”.
So New York City is still where most of the books are done. But once books are written, edited, printed and bound, they have to be sold. I asked my colleague Elizabeth A. Harris about a bookseller who holds a unique place in the publishing ecosystem, but has closed several stores in New York City over the past decade: Barnes & Noble.
Barnes & Noble was once a rogue for publishers, but now publishing seems to be on its side. What happened?
Barnes & Noble used to be known for squeezing publishers for more favorable terms and was seen by many as an existential threat to independent bookstores. But now Amazon is by far the most dominant player in book sales — it sells more than half of the physical books in the United States. That doesn’t apply to e-books and audiobooks, which Amazon dominates.
So Barnes & Noble’s position in the company has shifted. Today, it is seen by independent stores as a tool to help publishers invest in the distribution of physical books to stores across the country. Publishers see the 600 stores as a crucial way to bring physical books to the attention of customers.
When readers shop online, they tend to buy what they are looking for. But if they are in a bookstore, they might walk in looking for a novel and also come up with two or three other titles that they had no intention of buying. That kind of accidental discovery is hugely important to publishers.
[How Barnes & Noble Went From Villain to Hero]
Barnes & Noble book sales rose 14 percent last year. How did Barnes & Noble manage that? Has the company changed the way it decides which books to sell?
Part of this is that Barnes & Noble has tried to be aware of the books it stocks and promotes in its stores.
For example, it has paid a lot of attention to books that have taken off on TikTok, which has become a major factor in book sales. Viral clips of readers crying over books they love can sell a ton of copies! That actually put a lot of books on the bestseller list, including titles that came out years ago, which is unusual.
You wrote that Barnes & Noble no longer took fees from publishers to place books where they would be seen, such as at the cash registers or at the door you enter. How did that work?
Sounds like it was free money, right? Collect large sums and put a few books in the window. But it actually meant that books people didn’t want to read were right up front, while the books they did want were harder to find.
Now the Barnes & Noble store managers decide for themselves where they want to put the books and that seems to be working well.
Despite the 14 percent increase in book sales, total sales rose by only 3 percent. What else came out in total? Or, to put it another way, what drove the numbers down last year, and is Barnes & Noble planning to close down parts of its business that weren’t profitable?
Much of this was Covid sleep. Their cafe business was in decline. Omicron came in just as the pivotal holiday season was heating up. And most of their stores had no events for nearly two years — author readings and book signings can sell many copies.
As the country continues to open up, those things are expected to improve.
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Finally warming up
Now that it’s finally getting warmer, I put on the spring version of my uniform: black T-shirt, loose black jeans, beige sneakers and tortoiseshell glasses. My hair was behind my ears and the canvas tote slung over my shoulder.
I was on my way to get Thai food with a friend when I looked across Willoughby Street to Flatbush Avenue and saw him: loose black jeans, black T-shirt, beige sneakers, tortoiseshell glasses, hair behind the ears and an overstuffed canvas satchel.
He seemed to be somewhere important, maybe the airport.
He pointed at me.
I be back.
We both burst out laughing and went our separate ways.
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here†