Thursday, June 10, 2010

Whither Goes S&S?

Over the past five years I've talked frequently about the consequences of mega-corporations snatching up ownership of New York's publishing houses. In August, 2006, I said:
Publishing IS and ALWAYS has been a business. Publishers who don't treat it like a business don't stay in business long.

Having said that, it does make a difference whether the business in question is a privately-owned enterprise or a publicly-held one. Publicly-held companies must answer to their shareholders. And unhappy stockholders can be very vocal ... A private company (of which there are fewer and fewer publishers these days--Kensington leaps to mind) can make decisions that are more long-term in nature. They can take more chances and stick with a plan-of-action despite initial failures.

The vast majority of large publishing houses are now owned by big media companies. The tendency of such publishers is to go with a sure thing: big name authors or the trend of the day. It takes courage and insight to steer a different path.
Which brings me to an article in The New York Observer on Tuesday about "The Changing of the Guard at Simon & Schuster."

That title refers to the firing of long-time S&S publisher David Rosenthal in favor of the younger and less flashy Jonathan Karp (see my earlier post here)

The Observer says:
[The firing] of Mr. Rosenthal signals the snuffing out of a leader who did his job with an old-fashioned boldness: a publishing executive who ... cultivated a reputation for sneering in the face of the corporation that owned him ...

Several top literary agents said they weren't surprised that Mr. Rosenthal had been let go last Wednesday—Simon & Schuster had been struggling conspicuously, they said, and needed a reboot. Rosenthal loyalists, however, ... see the firing as a sacrificial gesture carried out by Ms. [Carolyn] Reidy [CEO of S&S] in order to signal to her superiors at CBS that she is actively making changes at a time when the entire company--not just Mr. Rosenthal's imprint--is putting up unsatisfactory numbers.

"When your team is doing badly you fire the manager," said the humorist Christopher Cerf ... "I'm sure there was a lot of pressure from CBS and all that."
The article stresses the irony to which everyone is pointing. Mr. Karp's very visible success at Twelve, an imprint of Hachette, stemmed from publishing only twelve books a year. Now he has taken over the reins at S&S, which produces 100 hardcover books a year.

Does this signal a move by S&S to cut the number of books it releases? Twelve famously employed a very small team. Does this indicate S&S is going to be cutting not only books, but staff?

Stay tuned ...

Read the article in The New York Observer here.


Leon said...

The article is actually from the New York Observer.

Maya Reynolds said...

Thanks, Leon!!!