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Posts Tagged ‘Random House’

Rushdie: Random Gave In To “Censorship By Fear”

salman-rushdie-headshot.jpgEver since the world learned about Random House‘s cancellation of The Jewel of Medina over what the company described as “cautionary advice” that publishing a novel narrated by the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad might expose them to terrorist attacks, people have been comparing Sherry Jones‘s situation to that faced by Sir Salman Rushdie after the release of The Satanic Verses. Heck, the woman who gave Random House that advice, Islamic studies professor Denise Spellberg, explicitly accused Jones of being an anti-Islamic polemicist by following in Rushdie’s thematic footsteps. So what does Rushdie, who’s been published by Random House for several years now, think of this last week’s hoopla?

“This is censorship by fear, and it sets a very bad precedent indeed,” Rushdie emailed the Associated Press. Upon hearing that one of the company’s most prestigious authors was “very disappointed,” a Random House spokesperson responded: “We certainly respect Mr. Rushdie’s opinion, but we stand by our decision, which we made with considerable deliberation and regret.” (Note that regret: told you that was coming.) Which rather misses the point: It’s not as if Random House, having already liberated Jones from her contract, could change its mind at this point. Even if the company decided it would rather face the threat of violence than continue to be viewed as moral cowards by significantly more people than would even dream of attacking them over a book, the only way they could publish the novel now would be to buy it back again, and we all know that isn’t going to happen.

So let’s stop pretending this is a decision that one can actively choose to “stand by” in a meaningful way, shall we? It’s not a position Random can stick to on principle; it’s the position they’re stuck with.

(The argument for canceling the book and keeping Random House’s employees and other corporate assets safe from harm is not entirely unpersuasive, of course. As I commented earlier this week, though, it leaves every other author wondering, if only for a moment, whether the company would refuse to stand up for them under similar circumstances.)

[AP file photo]

Sherry Jones & The Jewel of Medina: Which Side Are You On?

mark-weston-headshot.jpgNeither Andy nor I was able to make it to Mark Weston‘s book party last week, but luckily for us Wiley publicist Cynthia Shannon thought to ask the author of Prophets & Princes, a history of Saudi Arabia, what he thought about Random House pulling the plug on The Jewel of Medina, Sherry Jones‘s novel about A’isha, the youngest of Muhammad’s wives.

“I agree with [Denise Spellberg],” Weston emailed Shannon after reading the original WSJ op-ed that started the public furor. “You don’t turn scripture into soft core pornography.” While admitting that he hadn’t read any of Jones’s novel, Weston says, apparently going by what the scholar who told Random House they were exposing themselves to terrorist attacks has said about the book, “it seems to be a work that will enflame rather than enlighten… Turning the Quran into a bodice-ripper is not the way to show Muslims the advantages of freedom.” (Note: Based on a reading of the novel’s prologue, I question Spellberg’s characterization.)

“Sherry Jones can write and self-publish whatever she wants,” Weston added. “Random House is free to decide that a book is not worth the trouble if publishing it will cause people to die. Should the world’s most violent men have a veto over what gets published? No. But publishing The Jewel of Medina would make radical Muslims stronger, not weaker. In the long struggle for freedom, let us choose a more intelligent cause.”

Strong words for a book Weston hasn’t even read yet. (By the way, who gets to decide which acts of expression are “intelligent” enough to enjoy the support of enlightened free-thinkers? Just asking.) And novelist Andrew Klavan would probably have even stronger words in response to Weston’s dismissal—starting with “Nuts!” and working his way up to a NSFW vocabulary from there.

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Scott Moyers Won’t Be A Junior Jackal

The Observer’s Leon Nayfakh catches up with former book editor Scott Moyers, now comfortably ensconced within the Wylie Agency as a literary agent. In the last month alone, Moyers has sold books to Doubleday, Scribner, Random House and the Penguin Press. Not a bad opening month, Neyfakh comments, though having worked as an editor at all four of those houses may have come in handy – as does working with the man famously known for poaching clients that his nickname, “The Jackal,” pretty much says it all.

Many of Moyers’ colleagues in the industry say they’re pleased for him about his new gig. But a few fear that between the personal loyalty that Moyers commands from many of the writers he’s edited, and Wylie’s formidable existing stable of talent (Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis are but a few of the 600-plus author on the overall client list) and no-holds-barred recruiting tactics, the pair could create a juggernaut with the ability to raid the rosters of smaller competitors. Or, as one competitor puts it: “The question for Scott is, if you swim with the sharks, are you going to become one of the sharks?”

Not surprisingly, Moyers disagrees with any such notions. “I am not making it my business to think in those terms or be predatory,” he told Neyfakh. “There is so much good work to do. I think, like all agents, if something happens organically-if one is approached, if something makes sense, then so be it. I’m not going to be morbidly squeamish in a kind of way that doesn’t make sense. But I am going to be straightforward and open.” And he’s generally amused by any speculation about potential poaching and shark-swimming. “I thank them for their concern, for their solicitude. I’m moved by their empathy,” he said. “I ask them to give me a soul X-ray a year from now, and if I have black spots on the lungs of my soul, then, you know, they can just rush me to the infirmary and fill me up with drugs. But I somehow think it’s going to be okay.”

How A.N. Wilson Got Left Off the Booker Shortlist

In truth, A.N. Wilson‘s WINNIE AND WOLF was never actually on the shortlist for the Booker Prize – but for about 15 minutes, he writes in the Telegraph, Wilson didn’t realize there was a mistake because “shortly before four o’clock [the day of the announcement] they rang me in tremendous excitement. It sounded as if one of the nice women in the office had either brought along a puppy to join in the celebrations or was herself having hysterics. “You’re through! You’re on the list!” I was told.”

And then came the about-face. It turns out that PR firm Colman Getty – responsible for all things PR-related for the Booker – had rung Wilson’s publisher Hutchinson by mistake. And about an hour later, a motorbike came to the front door with a letter. “Dear Andrew, I’ve just got back from the Man Booker press conference to hear about the really unfortunate mistake Lois, my assistant, has made in telling Random House that WINNIE AND WOLF has been shortlisted for the prize. I am so, so sorry that this has happened…It was a genuine mistake, and we are all deeply upset by it.” It was signed by someone called Dotty.

Wilson then muses about whether his “favorite” prankster Bevis Hiller was involved, or if circumstances should ever throw him and the unfortunate assistant (really charged with the entire Booker campaign!) together. In the end, he concludes that Lois’s boss was the one in error: “How truly shaming of Dotty to blame Lois for the “genuine” mistake. Dotty, described in the letter as “Chief Executive”, should have apologized collectively rather than naming the unfortunate Lois.” No kidding.

The Next, Still Pessimistic Chapter for E-Books

The New York Times’ Brad Stone doesn’t really add much more about the next generation e-book readers like Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader, but since people reading the NYT aren’t necessarily reading GalleyCat (or tech-related websites and blogs, for that matter) the piece, which also looks at Google‘s plans for e-bookdom, at least gets the basics down – and the skepticism in place.

“Books represent a pretty good value for consumers. They can display them and pass them to friends, and they understand the business model,” said Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research, who is skeptical that a profitable e-book market will emerge anytime soon. “We have had dedicated e-book devices on the market for more than a decade, and the payoff always seems to be just a few years away,” he said. But with the Reader getting attention (if not sales) and Amazon’s imminent e-book device on their radar, most major publishers have accelerated the conversion of their titles into electronic formats. “There has been an awful lot of energy around e-books in the last six to 12 months, and we are now making a lot more titles available,” said Matt Shatz, vice president for digital at Random House, which plans to have around 6,500 e-books available by 2008. It has had about 3,500 available for the last few years.

Still, some retailers remain wary – especially Barnes & Noble, famously invested in e-books until they got out in 2003. “If an affordable device can come to the market, sure we’d love to bring it to our customers, and we will,” said B&N CEO Steve Riggio. “But right now we don’t see an affordable device in the immediate future.”

After Napster Payout, Bertelsmann Still Keen to Acquire

Reuters reports that Berteslmann, Random House‘s parent company, said on Tuesday it was keen to target acquisitions in education publishing as it posted a first-half loss due largely to litigation costs. Bertelsmann Chief Financial Officer Thomas Rabe said the company should be in a position to make significant acquisitions from next year and said it will have between 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) and 1.5 billion to buy new businesses annually.

Net income dropped 85 percent on the cost of litigation over Internet music company Napster (after Bertelsmann settled a lawsuit filed by the National Music Publisher’s Association that said the company’s investment in Napster encouraged abuse of copyrighted content, resulting in 243 million euros in payment for settlements) as well as a fall in earnings and revenue at its book and music units.

First Half Sales Slow for Random House

The Bookseller’s Philip Jones reports that Random House registered a slight year-on-year decline in its first-half revenues and earnings, according to parent Bertelsmann. The group blamed the decline on the “cost of investing in future growth”, and came despite a strong performance in the UK bestseller charts.Sales reached 832m euros in the six months to end-June 2007, down from 859m euros a year earlier. Operating earnings before interest (EBIT) were 44m euros, against 48m euros in 2006.

Bertelsmann said: “In a global book market with a slow-growth trajectory. The decline is due to the cost of investing in future growth, especially for new publishing businesses in the UK, as well as the unfavorable US exchange rates.” It added: “Random House outperformed the market in Germany and the UK. Random House UK Group titles accounted for 30% of the Sunday Times bestseller lists. In the US, Random House placed more than 100 titles on the New York Times bestseller lists.”

Bertelsmann to Restructure Direct Group Unit

Reuters reports that Bertelsmann (parent company of Random House) plans to carve up its Direct-Group unit. Bertelsmann bosses will discuss the new structure of the division, which includes the group’s book club businesses and generates annual sales of some 2.7 billion euros ($3.7 billion), at a meeting on Wednesday, followed by a meeting by the supervisory board on Friday. Bertelsmann plans to present a new strategy for the whole company in mid-December, when the group’s top managers will gather for a two-day meeting in Berlin. Direct-Group unit head Ewald Walgenbach said last week he will leave the conglomerate by the end of the year to join private equity firm BC Partners.

Random House Donates $1M to First Book

Random House announced Monday that it was donating $1 million to First Book, a nonprofit organization that has given millions of books to needy children since its founding in 1992, reports the Associated Press. “As publishing professionals who spend our days surrounded by and immersed in books, it is difficult to imagine a world without them,” Random House chairman Peter Olson said in a statement.

“But this is a disturbing reality for millions of children in our country who do not have any books at all in their homes or schools or daycare centers. We know that one of the leading imperatives in raising the national literacy rate is to ensure that children have access to books.” Random House added that over the years it has donated more than 13 million copies of its own books.

Tony Blair to Meet Publishers This Fall

Even though it’s highly likely that a memoir from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is years in the offing, that doesn’t mean there can’t be stories about every permutation and combination relating to such a possible step. To wit, the Bookseller’s Katherine Rushton reports that Blair will meet publishers in London at the start of October, together with Robert Barnett, the Washington lawyer he has instructed to sell his memoirs. Random House and HarperCollins are expected to make bids for the book, and Bloomsbury (in a partnership with Miramax) and Simon & Schuster have confirmed they are also entering the fray. Hachette is understood to have ruled itself out of the competition, although CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson declined to comment to the Bookseller.

As already speculated, Blair’s approach direct to the US is seen as an attempt to bag the biggest deal possible by capitalizing on his popularity there, Rushton explains. Securing Barnett, who won big money for Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan advance-wise (and also represents James Patterson now) is also likely to inflate Blair’s advance. Rushton also has more in the Telegraph today about the pre-Frankfurt plan for Blair.

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