Today’s NYT profile of Simon Spotlight Entertainment publisher Jennifer Bergstrom acts like her cultivation of books “devoted to pop culture for readers age 18 to 35″ is a new direction, but consider one of the main tricks involved—signing books by entertainment personalities. The article names comedians Tommy Chong, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor and Greg Behrendt, who cowrote He’s Just Not That Into You with sitcom writer Liz Tuccillo. A quick look in the Publishers Marketplace deal database pulls up books Bergstrom acquired by another sitcom writer, Michele Serros, and “celebrity fashion stylist/designer” June Ambrose. But tapping into star power and showbiz panache is, as it happens, one of the two ways Miramax Books CEO Rob Weisbach made a name for himself in the ’90s, when he corraled Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Degeneres, and Paul Reiser into creating a string of #1 bestsellers (there was also Whoopi Goldberg’s Book, but best not to dwell on that).*
As it happens, Weisbach ended a three-year stint as an editor-at-large at S&S, where he was doing his best to develop talent and properties with cross-media potential, in order to take the Miramax gig. And, in fact, when he arrived at Miramax, Weisbach enthused about the opportunity to join “a visionary new integrated media company” and “help build a publishing division that will provide a nurturing home for writers of superior talent, work aggressively to help all variety of booksellers bring our titles to a broad audience, and find new ways to close the gap between traditional publishing and the next-generation consumer.”
All of which sounds an awful lot like the path SSE is pursuing to fulfill the mandate from S&S CEO Jack Ramanos “to reach a younger audience not necessarily interested in reading the same things that the baby-boomer audience was buying,” including the willingness to sell books in retail outlets like Urban Outfitters. The angle that Times reporter Edward Wyatt doesn’t dwell on, but which actually might be more interesting, is that the children’s wing was able to put together this strategy and make it work fast. And not that we like to brag or anything, but mediabistro.com pegged Bergstrom as someone to watch over a year ago.
*The other half of his success came from his willingness to publish the edgy fiction of folks like Dale Peck and A. M. Homes.