When it filed for Chapter 11 May 21, 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt reported sales of $1.295 billion and EBITDA of $238 million for 2011, making the company roughly than same size as Houghton Mifflin was itself before it was acquired by Riverdeep in 2006 and before the 2007 $4 billion acquisition of the educational and trade publishing assets of Harcourt Brace. In 2005, the last full year in which it stood has a separate company, HM had sales of $1.28 billion; when it was purchased by Riverdeep in November 2006, HM/Riverdeep had sales of $1.425 billion and EBITDA of $392 million. When HM’s purchase of Harcourt closed in December 2007, the company said the merger of the two companies would create a company that had revenues of $2.5 billion. HM had not released financial information since it was acquired by Barry O'Callaghan's Riverdeep company in 2006 (O'Callaghan is no longer involved with HMH).

In its filing, HMH blamed the recession and subsequent decline in school funding for what it acknowledged has been a “substantial decline” in revenue. The filing noted that despite the financial restructuring in March 2010 “due to the continuing contraction of funds for state education spending and higher deferrals of awarded business than expected,” HMH “continued to experience “financial difficulties,” which led to another round of discussions with lenders about a new restructuring. And while HMH had EBITDA of $238 million in 2011, figures from its statements of operations show it had a net loss loss of $2.2 billion due largely to an $1.7 billion impairment charge plus $32.8 million in severance costs and $245 million in interest payments. In 2010, HMH had a net loss of $819 million as its writedown was a much "smaller" $107 million, but interest payments were $416 million. Sales in the year were $1.507 billion. In 2009, the key numbers were revenue of $1.562 billion, a writedown of $953 million and an operating loss of $1.4 billion.

HMH responded to the plunge in revenue by hiring a new CEO, Linda K. Zecher, in September 2011, who in turn replaced a number of high ranking executives and cut approximately 500 jobs in the educational part of the business, the segment that traditionally generates about 90% of revenue. HMH now has 3,330 employees (3,245 who are fulltime). Although the trade and reference division was largely spared from the recent deep cuts, its sales too have fallen. With sales of about $130 million in 2011, the HMH trade division is almost the same size as the HM trade division was in 2005 when it had sales of $128 million; the addition of the Harcourt trade unit, with its strong literary fiction and children’s units, was estimated to have created a HMH trade unit with sales over $200 million. The division, which at one point had been put up for sale, implemented its own restructuring in 2008 and 2009 that resulted cutting its annual title output by 100-150 titles.