Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Part Two: Multinational Corporations Take Over Publishing

Gulf and Western managed companies as diverse as auto parts suppliers, zinc mines, and sugar cane producers. In 1966 it strayed into the entertainment business by acquiring Paramount Pictures, a company dating back to 1913 when Adolph Zukor, owner of a New York nickelodeon and founder of the Famous Players Film Company, invested in a film distribution company by that name. Paramount had produced such notable films as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, GOING MY WAY, SUNSET BOULEVARD, A PLACE IN THE SUN, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, ROMAN HOLIDAY, SHANE, and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. The purchase of Simon and Schuster gave Gulf and Western an opportunity to cash in on Pocket Books’ movie tie-in paperbacks

(Left: The Simon and Schuster Building, N.Y.)

Under the umbrella of Gulf and Western (renamed Paramount Communications in 1989), S and S began expanding through acquisition. Between 1984 and 1994, it purchased more than 60 publishing companies, including the prestigious Macmillan Publishing Company. Subsequently, company revenue grew from $200 million in 1983 to more than $2 billion in 1997.

Shortly after the 1994 Macmillan acquisition, Paramount – along with S and S – was sold to Viacom Inc. Viacom (short for "Video & Audio Communications") was founded in 1971 as a division of CBS. It was purchased in 1986 by movie theater owner National Amusements, but retained its original company name. Simon and Schuster benefited from the sale by launching new imprints based on programming by Viacom’s MTV Networks.

In 2005 Viacom was split into two companies – Viacom and CBS Corporation – with National Amusements retaining control of both entities. Simon and Schuster became the property of CBS Corporation.

As part of the world’s fourth largest media conglomerate behind the Walt Disney Company, Time Warner, and News Corporation, Simon & Schuster continues to publish tie-ins to films by Viacom-owned Paramount. As one of the four largest English-language publishers – Random House, Penguin, and HarperCollins being the others – it has approximately 1350 employees, publishes approximately two thousand titles annually under 35 different imprints, is a leading audio and ebook publisher, and distributes its titles in more than 100 countries and territories around the world.

It is also the ONLY major publisher in the United States that is owned by an American corporation.

(Right: Current S and S logo)

Multi-national corporations headquartered outside the U.S. own the other five major publishers operating here. Those publishers and corporations are:

Random House with its 100+ imprints, owned by Bertlesman (Germany).
HarperCollins with its imprints, owned by Rupert Murdock’s News Corporation (United Kingdom).
Penguin Group with its many imprints (among them Viking, Putnam, Dutton, Berkley. Grosset and Dunlap), owned by Pearson (United Kingdom).
Macmillan with its imprints (Farrar Straus and Giroux; St. Martin’s Press, and more), owned by Holtzbrink (Germany); bought in 1999 after 156 years of ownership by the Macmillan family.
Grand Central (formerly Warner Books) along with Little, Brown (American publisher founded in 1837), owned by Hachette Livre (France).

How does multi-national corporation ownership of publishing companies affect writers? Clearly, as large conglomerates take over the publishing business, smaller companies either die off or are acquired by the big guys, with the result being layoffs of skilled workers and fewer publishing outlets for authors.

Simon and Schuster (CBS Corp.) posted $794 million in revenue in 2009 while employing, according to their website, only 1350 people. Random House (Bertlesman) laid off employees in 2009 and 2010 while posting $1.7 billion in revenue for 2009 and this year agreeing to pay Janet Evanovich $50 million for her next four books. Macmillan (Holtzbrink) lowered ebook royalties to authors while its St. Martin’s Press division is accused of slashing royalties under “high discount” provisions.

The bigger the corporation, the more power its affiliated publishing companies have to influence the placement of books in stores, to negotiate author rights and payments, and to limit big time advertising to a chosen few writers. Likewise, the bigger the corporation, the more it must answer to its stockholders, thus making it almost de rigueur for publishers to abandon moderately selling first-time and midlist authors and concentrate instead on titles by best-selling novelists, ghost-written celebrity tell-alls, and non-fiction self help books.

Publication by a major publisher is the dream of practically every fiction writer. Given the consolidation and elimination of publishing companies over the past twenty-five years, that dream may be harder to fulfill today than ever before. While it still comes true each year for a good number of first-time authors, many writers have abandoned the dream and instead pursue vastly different avenues to publication.

More on that next time.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Publishing's Journey from Privately-held Companies to Multi-national Corporations

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

From a letter by President Abraham Lincoln to Col. William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864.

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“Do you know the only thing that gives me pleasure? It’s to see my dividends coming in.” And: “God gave me my money.”

John D. Rockefeller, 1839-1937; founder of the Standard Oil Company and the first American billionaire.

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“To widen the market and narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers.”

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I (Everyman’s Library, 6th Printing 1991)

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There’s not a person on this earth today who isn’t in some way affected by the growing power of multinational corporations. From retail giants to telecommunication syndicates, from energy conglomerates to international investment banks, global business interests influence how we live and work.

Writers are no less affected than anyone else by this change in the worldwide economic blueprint. American publishing companies that independently prospered in the 1800’s and early 1900’s are now mere cogs in the wheels of corporations so vast and ever-changing that some employees aren’t sure from day to day exactly who they work for.

How did it get this way? Who owns what? And how does the ownership of publishing companies affect writers?

Well, let’s take a look at Simon and Schuster. S and S was founded in 1924 after Richard L. Simon’s aunt, a devotee of the crossword puzzles printed in the New York World newspaper, asked if there existed a book of such puzzles. On finding there wasn’t, Simon teamed up with M. Lincoln (“Max”) Schuster to become the first publisher of such books. The pair marketed the books aggressively, including a pencil with each copy and assuring buyers through their newspaper ads that crosswords were the country’s next craze.

The ploy worked well. The book became a bestseller and launched S and S as a publishing company to be reckoned with. (Adding to the proof that the two men made a wise decision with this initial effort, it should be noted that even today, Simon and Schuster is the leading U.S. publisher of crossword puzzle books.)

(photo on left: Simon and Schuster logo, circa 1961)

Dick Simon and Max Schuster were not content to be just another pair of struggling entrepreneurs. They took risks other book publishers of their time were unwilling to make, spending up to ten times more than their competitors on advertising and introducing schemes that made their products highly attractive to booksellers. They are probably best known for introducing the return system where bookstores could return unsold titles for credit towards future purchases.

The pair made another good move in 1939 when they teamed up with Robert Fair de Graff to found Pocket Books, thus becoming America's first modern paperback publisher.

Paperback books actually got their start in the U.S. in the mid-1800’s with the publication of New York printer Erastus Beadle’s A Dime Song Book, a paperbound collection of popular song lyrics. It sold so well that Beadle published another “dime” book, Maleska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter, an adventure novel by Anne S. Stephens.

“Dime novels” were all the rage in the late 1800’s and early twentieth century, but they fell out of favor in the 1920’s with the advent of pulp fiction magazines. Although cheaply produced reprints of Victorian novels continued to be sold in paperback, it wasn’t until 1935 when British businessman Allen Lane founded Penguin Books in London that good quality contemporary novels began being published in that format. At the time, modern novels were printed only in hardcover at prices above what the average worker in England could afford. Lane made books by writers like Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway available to the general public at much lower prices and sold his paperbacks not only in bookstores, but also in tobacco shops, train stations, and grocery stores.

Attentive to Lane’s success in England, Dick Simon and Max Schuster eagerly followed in his footsteps when entrepreneur Robert Fair de Graff approached them with the idea to create Pocket Books. The Simon and Schuster imprint bore the logo of "Gertrude the kangaroo" (named for the artist’s mother-in-law) and featured reprints of works by writers like Dorothy Parker, Agatha Christie, Emily Bronte, and Thornton Wilder in glued rather than stitched paperbacks. Bronte’s Wuthering Heights made the best-seller list and was one reason S and S sold more than 1.5 million Pocket Book editions by the end of the first year of production. With de Graff at the helm of the imprint, mysteries and movie tie-ins became staples of the line.

S and S took another giant step forward in 1942 by launching the Little Golden Books series in cooperation with the Artist and Writers Guild, Inc. These children’s books originally sold for twenty-five cents each and included such all-time favorites as The Little Red Hen and Mother Goose. S and S published the books for sixteen years before selling their interest in the line to Western Printing and Lithographing. Ownership of the series changed hands several times after that with Random House acquiring Golden Books for about 85 million dollars in 2001. Probably the most famous Golden Book of all time is The Poky Little Puppy, one of the twelve original titles published in 1942. As of 2005, 15 million copies had been sold worldwide.

In 1944, Dick Simon and Max Schuster sold S and S and Pocket Books to Marshall Field III, founder of the Chicago Sun newspaper (now the Chicago Sun-Times). They bought S and S back from Field’s heirs in 1957, but left Pocket Books to be purchased by their new business partners, Leon Shimkin and James M. Jacobson. Pocket Books returned to the S and S umbrella in 1966. For the next nine years the four partners varied their levels of ownership in the company. In 1975, majority holder Leon Shimkin sold Simon and Schuster to Charles Bluhdorn, founder of the American conglomerate Gulf and Western.


More on Gulf and Western's alliance with Simon and Schuster tomorrow.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

New Reviews by Carl Brookins

McMansion
by Justin Scott
Poisoned Pen Press
255 pages, hardcover
ISBN: 1-59058-063-X

Justin Scott has written over a dozen mysteries, thrillers and adventure novels under several names, taut, exemplary stories that illuminate and explore many of our social concerns. They are good stories, well-written with drive and panache. This is another, peopled with interesting characters, a serious underpinning, and enough crime and mystery to satisfy the most enthusiastic crime fiction reader.

Ben Abbott is a sometime private investigator, sometime real estate agent,and a full time commentator on some of the more egregious aspects of our modern society and the influence on small town America. Abbott is also one of the more pleasant and thoughtful investigators readers are likely to run across in this age. Abbott is concerned about the effects of aging on his Aunt Constance who lives nearby, he takes in children in need of adult supervision, and he worries about unrestrained development of open spaces in the Connecticut town of Newbury where he lives. That last concern forms the core of this interesting novel about crooked developers, and a badly twisted legal system.

One of the worst developers, a Billy Tiller, possessed mostly of terrible taste, monumental greed and a willingness to break the law anytime he thought there was profit in it, gets his come-uppance when somebody drives a bulldozer over him at a construction site. The perpetrator, a young member of ELF, is discovered by the local troopers sitting at the controls of the offending 'dozer with the crushed body of Billy Tiller underneath. Open and shut, but Abbott, retained by the boy's lawyer, doesn't believe it. His pursuit of the truth leads him into some interesting and stressful situations.

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The Protest Singer: Pete Seeger
By Alec Wilkinson
Pub by Vintage Books, 2010,
ISBN: 978-0-307-39098-1
Trade Paper, 152 pages, including
credits, acknowledgments and testimony.

The mystery is that Pete Seeger survives and endures. In his lifetime which spans much of the turmoil of the Twentieth Century, he has been beset by some of the most vicious and evil forces we have experienced in this country and in the world. Yet, here he is, still pluckin’ and singin’ and taking on injustice and good causes, like cleaning up the Hudson River.

I suppose I’m biased. I grew up in a time when folk singing in America was in the ascendency and I have a lot of old records and memories of these folks, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, several others, and had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Seeger through the good offices of my friend, another fine folk singer, Gene Bluestein. So it was great to read about all those folks, many of whom it’s easy to think of as friends, whether personal or only through their music, through the sensibilities of Seeger and Wilkinson.

It is wonderful, although disturbing, to read this elegantly written, honest look at a man, his friends and companions, his family, his trials and his triumphs, who sang his way into the hearts and memories of a lot of people. Seeger’s influence is found not just in the music world; after all, the Weavers recording of “Goodnight Irene” in 1950 sold over a million copies. It is and will be enduring.

This slender book, written in the kind of engaging style that is somehow the essence of Seeger’s approach to a principled life, is a moving tribute to him and to everything that’s right in these United States. Readers may disagree with his points of view, but you cannot disagree with the way Mr. Seeger fashioned his protest. Wilkinson has set down, in a most engaging manner, for readers everywhere, the values and the reality of a true American.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

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COMING WEDNESDAY: Part One of "Publishing’s Journey From Privately-held Companies to Multinational Corporations". Part Two follows on Thursday.

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