Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, May 5, 2008

NY Times: Peter Olson Will Step Down as CEO of Random House

Some possibly big news afoot, according to the New York Times, Peter Olson will step down from his position as CEO of Random House. The Times cites disappointing profits (driven at least in part by a weak dollar) and losses in book club programs.

What does this mean for Random House and the industry?

We shall see.


Josephine Damian said...

The highest-ranking American in a German company, Mr. Olson is known equally for his voracious reading habits and for his zealous attention to the bottom line.

In 2003, he abruptly dismissed the president of the Random House Trade Group, Ann Godoff, saying in a news release that she ran the only unit “to consistently fall short of their profitability targets.” In an interview, he said it would have been disingenuous to attribute her exit to other reasons.

Now, Mr. Olson appears to have fallen victim to the same bottom-line calculus. Sales at Random House fell 5.6 percent in 2007, hurt by the eroding dollar and weak consumer spending.

Sounds like he's come full circle. Still, does not bode well for any of those in the biz.

Adaora A. said...

This is not the only editor who has left a major publishing house for whatever reason.

Harper Collins is loosing tons of folks. Michael Stears has left to become a 'partner' to the lovely Nadia Cornier at Firebrand.

I think they will have to re work a lot of how they do buisness. Perhaps it will lend to the whole phenomenon of 'downsizing' that seems to be happening in the publishing industry (as you said).

Ulysses said...

Another reminder that publishing is, above all, a business.

I have little sympathy for him, though. A CEO is rarely unemployed for long. My sympathies are reserved for the many under him who may find themselves similarly between assignments.

Judging by the economic indicators, this is only the beginning of tough times.

December/Stacia said...

Gawker says this is due to health concerns:

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Sorry, I can't really contribute any wise comments. For me it is more of a personal issue. It all makes me feel that by the time my manuscript is ready, the publishing business won't be. You just might be getting a query from me!

Adaora A. said...

It all makes me feel that by the time my manuscript is ready, the publishing business won't be.

Exactly. Publishing houses are (unsuprisingly), becoming increasingly selective in what they accept from unagented authors. By the minute it becomes more of a hinderance to any writer to go it alone. That pesky 'unsolicited' term comes around in full force. Publishing is such a small world.

Lisa McMann said...


and thanks for the Gawker link, d/s.

Colorado Writer said...

Holy cow.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Back when I was on the Writers Forum on Compuserve (Anyone here old enough to remember that era? It was before the internet became popular.) The first thing I learned was to always go through an agent, even if you actually had a publishing house panting for your manuscript.

ChrisEldin said...

This is disturbing. I'll have to read more.

Just_Me said...

From an agents perspective what does all this down-sizing mean? As an author this is just confirmation that I want a strong agent at my side fighting for my manuscript, but as an agent are you getting pickier? Does a change of CEO mean a shift in market focus at Random House? Since Random House will be aggressivley seeking profits what change do you anticipate as you go to sell work to editors?

Thank you for sharing :)

Cam said...

@Just Me - I have the same question. My get tells me, however, that if publishing houses are more selective, so then will agents have to be. Building on JustMe's question, I'm wondering also if there could be a seismic shift afoot in the types/genres of books that major houses will publish, not just the quantity.

Thanks for keeping us up-to-date on the industry, Nathan.

Cameron Sullivan
(who's thinking of changing her last name to DIAZ to further boost what I though was a good platform for n/f!) :-)

Nathan Bransford said...

just_me and cam-

It's tough to really translate the effects broader trends of the industry into my day to day life simply because there are so many books out there, so many editors, and every project is different. There are also slightly fewer places to send projects due to the consolidation in the industry (the Avalon/Perseus merger, for instance, all but wiped out the former Avalon's fiction acquisitions).

I do find myself being extremely selective and looking for the complete package in an author, but that has been my nature all along. All in all, it's my vague sense that there's more competition for spots now than there used to be, but it's all nebulous.

spinney said...

When I first saw this news, I thought "oh no! They'll want to slash titles." But that's not what the story says. The dude bought Columbia House-- in 2005! And they lost money on it.


This news is not so earth shattering.

gawain said...

Does it make sense to anyone that the industry is downsizing and publishing more at the same time?

It sounds less to me like the industry is looking at big-name titles, more like they're seeking middle-of-the road stuff. Safe stuff. Teenage vampire/cheerleader/romance/angst stuff that they know exactly how many copies will sell (stuff).

As was noted, there don't seem to be a lot of writers 'breaking out' and becoming huge, but the increase in published books is VERY large. Maybe its because these houses aren't looking that hard, they're just focusing on what they consider to be a solid business model. I can't say that I'd blame them, but its ironic that we might miss out on the next Grisham, King, or Rice because they're not writing teen romance. How hard would it have been for Rowling to find an agent or editor in this climate? Her story was about a boy. Terrible market. And wizardry: politically incorrect, that's two strikes... and an unknown author. Ouch. Would anyone even have wanted a partial?

r.c. said...

"I do find myself being extremely selective and looking for the complete package in an author."

Besides writing well, what is in this "complete package?" Does it include a talent for baking or a wicked slap shot? No?

I sometimes wonder why I even went to college.

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