Book publisher Simon & Schuster (CBS) clearly needed to do something drastic in the wake of a less-than-splendid first quarter. Every area other than e-books declined in sales and profits. But the boldness of their actions yesterday shocked veteran industry watchers, many of whom have seen it all before: David Rosenthal, publisher of the company's flagship imprint, was let go after 13 years with the company, replaced by Jonathan Karp, his one-time colleague at Random House and the current publisher at Grand Central Publishing imprint Twelve Books (LGDDY).
Karp (pictured here) will start at S&S on June 14, while Rosenthal finishes up his term at the end of the week. Now comes the preferred publishing parlor game: speculation. Why was Rosenthal fired? And is Karp the best choice to replace him?
Robert Barnett, literary attorney to political heavyweights across party lines, best summed things up: "For Jon Karp, it is like going to sleep running a classy bodega and waking up managing Bloomingdale's." Karp had joined Grand Central (when it was still known as Warner Books, under the ownership of Time Warner) in 2005 with a specific mandate: run an imprint by publishing fewer books, no more than one a month, and market them aggressively. That tactic paid off handsomely for bestselling non-fiction titles by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, Christopher Hitchens (whose memoir, Hitch-22, has just been published), Sebastian Junger, and many others.
Challenges Ahead for S&S, Grand Central
At S&S Karp will face many challenges, not the least of which will be reversing a downward sales trend in an area the publisher once dominated: literary fiction. As agent Robert Gottlieb pointed out, "as far as both big commercial fiction and big literary fiction is concerned, S&S has not made it work...over the last 10 to 15 years."
From the company standpoint, however, hiring Karp is a smart move. His experience at Twelve, especially with non-fiction, demonstrates he's a nimble publisher who maximizes all possible marketing opportunities for his books.
And, speaking of, what will become of Twelve? Grand Central Publishing head Jamie Raab told Publishers Lunch that the imprint will continue,with someone else at the helm and that they will "absolutely, without question" publish aggressively titles already signed by the imprint. What's missing, of course, is what happens next. The last time a visionary publisher left a small imprint for a larger place -- when Bob Miller left to become publisher of Workman -- HarperStudio was closed down, its contracted-for titles and authors dispersed across the larger HarperCollins universe. For now Twelve stays on, and perhaps the best candidate to run it is ... David Rosenthal.
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