FSG Feels Icy Bite in Publishing Freeze

Those individuals who are being spit out in the process, particularly those veteran editors and executives who have been booted from high-level positions, are having a harder time than ever finding jobs in the industry that are appropriate to their level of experience and offer the authority they have grown accustomed to wielding in the course of their careers.

The most obvious example of such a floater is Jane Friedman, the ex-CEO of HarperCollins who has been out of work since June, when she was abruptly fired by News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch. At a “transitioning” party held in her honor a few months later, Ms. Friedman swore to colleagues and old friends that she is “not done by a long shot,” and that she would return to her beloved industry in some capacity before too long. Not yet, though; although the self-described industry cheerleader has registered a “Jane Friedman Media” email address, she has kept mum on any publishing-related projects she might be pursuing in her post-HarperCollins life.

Another former exec plucked from her job sooner than expected is Janet Silver, who was laid off once last January, when Houghton Mifflin– the publishing house over which she’d presided for seven years– was merged unceremoniously with Harcourt, and then again a few months later when budget cuts at Doubleday forced the elimination of the editor-at-large position she’d only just been given at Nan A. Talese Books.

That is to say nothing of all the people who lost their jobs earlier this month when Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced staff cuts, or all those who will this week or next when the division heads of Random House announce layoffs stemming from the company’s recent reorganization.

According to Lorraine Shanley and Constance Sayre, two former publishing executives who run a consulting firm called Market Partners International, most of the book people who have for whatever reason had to leave their jobs in the past year should not expect to find new ones if they only consider positions at the handful of New York trade houses that they’re used to working for. Instead, both Ms. Shanley and Ms. Sayre said, these people will have to make their living by doing freelance work and seeking out new outlets for their skills.

“I think what will be interesting is that in the past, most of these editors would at least flirt with agenting, but the field is getting glutted and fewer books are being sold, for less money,” said Ms. Shanley. “So they’ll have to think more broadly about opportunities—becoming book doctors and ghost writers and authors, or in the case of sub-rights people, moving into licensing or scouting.”

Some refugees of the publishing industry have strayed from their roots deliberately. Former Random House CEO Peter Olson, for instance, is teaching at Harvard Business School, while Will Schwalbe, who voluntarily left his position as editor-in-chief of Hyperion a little less than a year ago and has since launched a Web site called Cookstr that lets cookbook authors promote their work by offering. Others, like former Bloomsbury publishing director Annik LaFarge, former Rodale editorial director Leigh Haber and former Atlas & Co executive editor John Oakes, are eager to stay more closely involved with the business of books. Ms. Haber, who left her position at Rodale in June, is working with the print-on-demand company Blurb, while Mr. Oakes is trying to set up a new summer program for publishing-bound college grads and preparing a project he declined to discuss in specifics that involves a group of fellow out-of-work editors who are “kicking around” just like him. Ms. LaFarge, meanwhile, coordinates book coverage for former Random House publisher Joni Evans’ Web site for women, WoWoWoW.com., edits books on a freelance basis, and helps authors like Mitch Albom develop their internet presence. “Every day a new call comes in, or an email,” said Ms. LaFarge. “I can sort of foresee having to turn down business.” In the meantime, she said, her new career leaves her plenty of time to do things she loves, such as playing the piano and going to museums. “I really try to do that,” Ms. LaFarge said, before adding that “none of this would be possible” if she wasn’t covered by the health care plan that her partner, the publisher Ann Godoff, receives from her employers at Penguin Group USA.

According to Ms. Sayre, whose consulting firm has been extra busy as a result of all the recent layoffs in publishing, the only truly major vacant job in town is one that might not even exist, and that’s at Random House, under new CEO Markus Dohle. Industry observers have been speculating ever since Mr. Dohle’s appointment more than six months ago that the 40-year-old former printing executive would hire a number two from within the American publishing world to make up for the fact that he himself has no experience in the book business. So far, however, Mr. Dohle has not done so.

“Everybody agrees that someone’s gotta come in,” said Ms. Sayre. “There has to be somebody, but we don’t know who that person is going to be.”

One person who could fill that role is former Doubleday Publishing Group president Steve Rubin, whose position at Random House was eliminated as a result of the reorganization recently ordered by Mr. Dohle. Mr. Rubin, who has been with the company for more than 20 years, is in talks with Mr. Dohle about creating a new corporate-level position that would allow the veteran publisher to retain some of his influence in the company and also spare Random House from paying him any severance.

Mr. Rubin, who is known throughout Random House as an uncommonly benevolent and effective boss, would surely serve Mr. Dohle well. If for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, though, and the inscrutable CEO decides he wants to hire someone else for the post, you can bet, all things considered, that he won’t be lacking for applicants.


FSG Feels Icy Bite in Publishing Freeze