On Jan. 1, 2018, Carolyn Reidy will complete her 10th year as president and CEO of Simon Schuster. During her tenure, Reidy has steered the company through the Great Recession, publishing’s digital disruption, and a slow-growth sales environment to keep it a commercial and critical success. Indeed, the publisher is on track to have another highly profitable year, and in November Jesmyn Ward won her second National Book Award in Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing, released by SS’s Scribner imprint. For her steady leadership in guiding one of the country’s Big Five trade publishers, Reidy is PW’s 2017 Person of the Year.
Reidy joined SS in 1992 and came up through the publishing and management ranks. She was head of adult publishing in the fall of 2007 when she was named by Leslie Moonves, chairman and CEO of SS parent company CBS Corp., to succeed Jack Romanos, who was retiring.
“In 2008 Carolyn hit the ground running as CEO and has never stopped,” Moonves says. “She has a great grasp of the big picture, is on top of the critical details, and has an infectious enthusiasm for every aspect of publishing that she communicates to the entire company. She leads from the front and has managed the company beautifully through a truly transformative time within the industry. We are fortunate to have had an executive of her talents and vision as our CEO for the past 10 years, and look forward to a great future at Simon Schuster under her leadership.”
Reidy says that the first 18 months of her tenure were the most difficult: “We did a lot of heavy lifting in that period.” The company needed to respond to the recession and look for ways to operate more efficiently. “We did a companywide analysis of all our processes,” she notes, which led to eliminating a layer of management. “It wasn’t easy,” she adds, but she always kept her overall goal in mind: to free up as much money as possible to spend on acquiring books.
The attention to costs has been one of the hallmarks of Reidy’s tenure. “It is a constant process,” she says. “Every year we develop a goal on how much money we would like to save. We’re not always sure where the savings will come from. A lot of ideas bubble up from the employees.”
Reidy’s eye on costs doesn’t mean she hasn’t made investments. SS has hired scores of new people to meet its expanding digital needs, for example, and Reidy notes that, over the past few years, the company’s head count has stayed about flat.
She acknowledges that, though she gives her publishers lots of autonomy (each can spend up to a certain dollar amount on a title before getting her approval), she can be something of a “meddler.” She adds, “I like to offer suggestions to make things better”—whether that means offering ideas on a cover or plans for a marketing campaign.
Although Reidy notes that publishers are free to accept or reject her suggestions, her top executives welcome her input. “Carolyn pays attention to the details, and her attentiveness is one of the reasons SS runs so smoothly and so well,” says Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of the Simon Schuster Publishing Group. “She’ll ask whether the font on a cover is the best one, or if we’ve considered reissuing a new edition of a backlist title published 20 years ago.”
Reidy says one of her early goals when succeeding Romanos was to build on the SS corporate culture. As an SS veteran, she describes the culture as one where the company “believes it has to make its own success; it is a high-energy environment where people are expected to make things happen.” A second major tenet, Reidy says, is the “presumption of professionalism”: the different departments can count on each other to do their jobs as best as they possibly can.
Since taking over, Reidy has opened up more lines of communication between the executive level and the rest of the company. Her objective is to give the staff a sense of gratification for the company’s success and to make them feel that they are all contributing to that success. One way she does that is by hosting annual town hall meetings in four different locations.
Those meetings do not go unnoticed by SS employees. “Carolyn can handle any question that is thrown at her on any topic, and she encourages input from all levels of the company,” says Judith Curr, president and publisher of the Atria Publishing Group. “Which is why her companywide town hall meetings are highlights of the year for everyone who works here.”
The team approach is important at SS, since its business has largely been built through organic growth. The November 2016 purchase of Adams Media was the only acquisition SS has made since Reidy was named CEO. The vehicle of choice for internal growth has been the creation of new imprints. This year saw the release of the first books from Gallery 13, established to publish graphic novels, and Salaam Reads, a children’s imprint “that aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.”
Other imprints added in recent years include 37 Ink, Keywords Press, North Star Way, Saga Press, Scout Press, and Simon 451. 37 Ink, overseen by Dawn Davis, was created to bring more diverse authors and titles to the company, Reidy notes. She says that, though SS and the book industry have made strides in diversifying staffs and lists, “there is still a long way to go.”
Expanding into different formats has also added to SS’s growth. Reidy remembers that, when she was named CEO, the company was publishing print and e-book editions simultaneously but had only digitized about 5,000 of its backlist titles. To meet the then-growing demand for e-books, she sped up the digitization process.
SS has also experimented with other digital initiatives. In cooperation with CBS, who supplied video footage, SS tried its hand at enhanced e-books—a format that failed to excite readers. Vooks, a package that combined text and video, was also not a hit with consumers. But digital audio has been a huge success for the industry, and SS has poured resources into increasing the number of audio titles it publishes, with visible results: SS sales of digital audio were up 35% in the first nine months of 2017 from the same period in 2016.
While synergy with other CBS companies hasn’t resulted in major new product, Reidy says the publisher’s relationship with its parent company has changed. With content being such a sought-after asset, there is more communication between SS and other CBS divisions than there used to be. “CBS is great for us—they are a content company,” Reidy notes. SS’s Adams Media imprint just published Snow Falling, a book the main character in Jane the Virgin “wrote” on the popular TV show that runs on the CW network, a coventure of CBS and Warner Brothers. And in late October, SS released a book about one of CBS’s most iconic brands: Fifty Years of 60 Minutes. The SS–CBS relationship now extends to various CBS divisions optioning SS titles for TV or film.
CBS also provided backing to expand SS’s warehouse, which has allowed the publisher to build its distribution business, another area where Reidy sees growth opportunities. And the company’s international division is having a good 2017. Since she took over as CEO, SS has turned its Australian, Canadian, and Indian units, which were largely sales and marketing businesses, into full-fledged publishers by publishing local authors. As well as its international division has done, Reidy says there are no plans to expand into foreign-language publishing.
Reidy has always been optimistic about the industry and remains so, even though she knows publishing faces lots of competition for people’s time. “We need to keep books relevant to people,” she says. The lack of many big hits in recent years, she adds, can be seen as a good sign for the industry; she notes that when a group of titles—rather than just one blockbuster— is selling well, more companies benefit. That said, she laughs, “I’ll take a blockbuster if it’s mine!”
SS did score an impressive bestseller coup in October: eight of the New York Times bestseller lists for the week of October 8 had SS titles at #1. Karp recounts that, to mark the occasion, Reidy held celebrations on every floor of the building and across all departments: “She included everyone and visited each floor personally, because she wanted to emphasize that our success was truly a group effort, to be celebrated by all. That’s an example of Carolyn’s generous and active spirit of leadership.”