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Cuts, consolidations at book publishers

Associated Press / December 4, 2008
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NEW YORK - The economy has crashed down on an industry once believed immune from the worst - book publishing - with consolidation at Random House Inc. and layoffs at Simon & Schuster and Thomas Nelson Publishers.

"Yes, Virginia, book publishing is NOT recession proof," said Patricia Schroeder, president and chief executive of the Association of American Publishers. "It's a sad day."

At Random House, the country's largest general trade publisher, the man who helped give the world "The Da Vinci Code" is in talks for a new position, while the publisher of Danielle Steel and other brand-name authors is leaving altogether.

Stephen Rubin, who released Dan Brown's blockbuster thriller in 2003, is negotiating for a different job after Random House eliminated his position as president and publisher of the Doubleday Publishing Group. Bantam Dell head Irwyn Applebaum, whose many authors have included Steel, Dean Koontz, and Louis L'Amour, is departing, effective immediately.

Random House, under the leadership of chief executive Markus Dohle, announced the changes yesterday as part of a "new publishing structure" that will "maximize our growth potential in these challenging economic times and beyond."

Spokeswoman Carol Schneider would not say whether Applebaum, 54, was leaving voluntarily; Applebaum and Rubin, 67, have more than 40 years of combined experience in publishing. She said that layoffs are possible as the company's many imprints and divisions are shifted and split up.

"There may be difficult decisions to make and if layoffs are necessary they will be done as fairly and as quickly as possible," she said.

Simon & Schuster has been helped by President-elect Barack Obama's embrace of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals," but not enough to save some 35 positions, about 2 percent of the staff. Chief executive Carolyn Reidy said in a company memo yesterday that "today's action is an unavoidable acknowledgment of the current book-selling marketplace and what may very well be a prolonged period of economic instability."

Reidy added that "the entire publishing industry is coping with these truly difficult circumstances."

On Tuesday, a top executive at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt resigned as the publisher faces a credit squeeze and possible sale. Meanwhile, Michael S. Hyatt, the head of Thomas Nelson Publishers, a Nashville-based company that releases religious books, announced that about 10 percent of the staff, "54 of our friends and co-workers," had lost their jobs.

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