With 2018 in the rearview mirror, we take a look back at some of the biggest stories that captured headlines in the industry last year. While books about the current political climate—and a certain real estate magnate turned reality TV Star turned unlikely president—dominated the charts, insiders watched as the country’s largest book chain went through more changes, a literary agency shuttered, and a long-anticipated merger came to pass. Here are some of the biggest trade stories from 2018.
Barnes Noble Stumbles… and Jousts with an Ousted CEO
The ups and downs at the country’s biggest book chain have been a topic of watercooler talk at publishing houses for years. But 2018 was different. After surviving longtime struggles with its online presence and an ongoing sales decline, BN faced one of its most public fights in recent years with the ousting of its CEO, Demos Parneros. Fired for vague reasons—at the time of his removal, BN said he was “not a good fit for the organization”—Parneros filed suit against BN for breach of contract and defamation of character. Out of his suit came some fascinating revelations about BN, including the fact that it had nearly been acquired by WH Smith over the summer. BN has since filed a countersuit against Parneros, and the drama is still unfolding in the courts. Against this backdrop, BN has started to open new test stores in different areas of the country.
Sexual Harassment Stayed in the Headlines
Stories about powerful men allegedly harassing women did not abate in 2018, after the #MeToo movement arguably reached its fever pitch in late 2017. Bestselling authors ranging from Sherman Alexie to James Dashner to Junot Díaz all faced accusations in the media of harassment. (While the cloud hovering over Díaz was somewhat cleared—he retained his post on the Pulitzer board and many in the industry came to his defense—Dashner was cut loose by his publisher, and Alexie halted the planned release of his forthcoming book.) It wasn’t just those accused of harassment who took the spotlight in 2018, though; accusers also became targets. Before the close of the year, author Stephen Elliott, who was featured on the Shitty Media Men list, filed a defamation lawsuit against the crowdsourced document’s creator, Moira Donegan.
The Agenting Profession Takes a Hit
While literary agents usually remain behind-the-scenes in the publishing business, their work took an unfortunate center-stage seat in 2018. A few stories put a negative light on their work. Danielle Smith, a children’s book agent, closed her shop after being outed for fraud (having, among other things, forged letters from publishers regarding proposed deals and advances). A vaunted literary agency, Donadio Olson, also endured a difficult year after it was discovered that the agency had been the victim of embezzlement, with its longtime bookkeeper convicted of pilfering more than $3 million from the firm’s clients. DO, which had a client roster that included the Mario Puzo estate and Chuck Palahniuk, has closed, and its accountant, Darren Webb, has been sentenced to two years in prison.
Penguin Random House Merges Random House and Crown
On its surface, the merger between PRH’s Random House and Crown groups may not seem like a big story. But since Penguin and Random House merged in 2013, questions have lingered about what comes next. How will it use its size to maintain a competitive advantage? Will it look for expansion opportunities, or focus on getting more efficiencies from its existing assets? Although divisions at the publisher have been shuffled and merged over the years, the Crown-RH move was the most recent to merge two groups that had been original Random House divisions. The restructuring resulted in the departure (and elevation) of some of the highest-profile players at the house; most notably Molly Stern, formerly senior v-p and publisher of Crown, left, while Gina Centrello, former RH president and publisher, was promoted to oversee the new “supergroup” at the company. And, as with the other mergers and restructuring within PRH, this one raises the question: what’s coming at the publisher in 2019, especially since the move of the staff from Penguin’s offices to PRH’s headquarters was completed in late 2018?