Steve Rubin Says Doubleday Dismissals Were Self-Inflicted

In pursuing this mandate, Mr. Rubin is said to have helped usher in the era of the big, commercial, media-driven

In pursuing this mandate, Mr. Rubin is said to have helped usher in the era of the big, commercial, media-driven nonfiction book that so many publishers have taken to the bank over the course of the past 20 years.

Mr. Rubin spent about six years at Bantam before being promoted to publisher of Doubleday, Bantam’s hardcover cousin, which had fallen from greatness and had become a feeble giant cranking out and losing money on more than 600 books a year. Mr. Rubin was charged with turning it around, which he did thanks in large part to the discovery of a writer named John Grisham, who would go on to become one of the best-selling franchise authors in the world.

In 1995, Mr. Rubin and his wife, who represented classical musicians as an agent and a publicist, all of a sudden moved to London, where Mr. Rubin was given oversight of the British arm of Bertelsmann’s publishing empire. To this day, few understand exactly why Mr. Rubin left the U.S. when he did—whether he had disappointed his supervisors in some way or because he was bored—but regardless, he did not stay away long, and by the time Bertelsmann acquired and merged their publishing properties with Random House in 1998, he was back in the saddle at Doubleday.

The company has changed profoundly over the course of Mr. Rubin’s second tour of duty, not least of all because in the midst of the merger with Random House he allowed Anchor, the paperback operation that at one time provided Doubleday with a sturdy, reliable backlist, to be taken from under his jurisdiction and merged with the Vintage paperback line under Knopf’s president, Sonny Mehta. It was a coup for Mr. Mehta, and a great loss for Mr. Rubin, one that would later move him to merge Doubleday with Broadway Books, a commercial imprint under the Random House Inc. umbrella that had opened just a few years earlier with high hopes and a bold swagger.

Though Broadway had largely sputtered out (in terms of its explosive image) and lost some of its early shimmer thanks to one too many unrecouped advances by the time Mr. Rubin started the process of integrating it with Doubleday in 2000, it nevertheless brought to the table a healthy backlist that could, if managed properly, help make what was unabashedly a front-list-driven house like Doubleday less vulnerable to bad luck and the whims of the market.

Many of the key members of the Broadway staff left for other jobs over the course of a few years, though, and today the imprint is not, from an operational point of view, separate from Doubleday in any meaningful way. Their catalogs are separate, sure, but its editors acquire as often for Doubleday as they do for Broadway, and one would be hard pressed to identify what defines one list against the other.

Perhaps the biggest change at Doubleday that has taken place since Mr. Rubin reclaimed the reins 10 years ago is the addition of Spiegel & Grau, a muscular start-up that Mr. Rubin opened three years ago and that was hit harder than perhaps any other unit in Doubleday by last week’s cuts when it lost both its director of marketing and its director of publicity.*

David Drake, the Doubleday spokesman, said last week that Mr. Rubin remains committed to Spiegel & Grau, and explained that the centralization of marketing and publicity was part of a new philosophy of “sharing creative resources.”

“It’s probably a different philosophy in terms of where we were three years ago,” Mr. Drake said. “But there’s going to be no scaling back at all in terms of the amount of attention the books get internally, and externally in terms of how we promote them to the world.”

lneyfakh@observer.com

*This paragraph was changed from its original version. A detailed note of clarification can be found here.

Steve Rubin Says Doubleday Dismissals Were Self-Inflicted