For the second day in a row, one of the country’s largest publishers reported a loss for the first quarter. Late Thursday afternoon Simon & Schuster parent company CBS announced that the publishing house had an operating loss of $2.1 million compared to operating income of $14.6 million in last year’s first period. Sales declined 19.8%, to $161.7 million. On Wednesday, HarperCollins reported almost the same size drop in revenue and a $38 million loss.

S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy said results were “somewhat worse than our original expectations.” She blamed slower frontlist sales compared to a year ago when The Secret and Stephen King’s Duma Key were selling well, lower backlist sales and little sales carryover from titles released during the 2008 holiday season for the down quarter. Reidy said. S&S is keeping a tight rein on costs in every aspect of the company and continues to monitor staffing levels, noting that job cuts are a last resort. (This week’s changes in the children’s division were driven by new publisher Jon Anderson’s plan to reshape the organization, she said.)

Among the few bright spots in the first quarter, Reidy said sales of conservative titles did well as did sales of new authors, which she sees as a good sign for the industry. “When we pull out of this recession, we’ll have some new bestselling authors established,” Reidy said. New authors doing well for the company include Cassandra Clare (City of Glass), Lisa Genova (Still Alice) and Mark Levin (Liberty and Tyranny). In fact, Reidy said that when Liberty and Jodi Picoult’s Handle with Care were released in mid-March, S&S saw its first sales leap of the year, and business remained better in April, which was the best month of 2009 so far, Reidy said. E-book sales were another bright spot, quadrupling over last year.

Reidy said she has “high hopes” that new titles due out from the publisher will result in an upturn in business over the course of 2009. Stephen King, Joel Osteen, Glenn Beck, Vince Flynn and Philippa Gregory are among the authors with new books ready to go along with S&S newcomer Audrey Niffenegger.