When Bill Gates recommended Business Adventures, a 1969 essay collection by late New Yorker contributor John Brooks, as part of his 2014 summer reading list, the Microsoft founder called it “the best business book ever,” but noted that it’s “not easy to find.” Not any more.
The essay collection went from rare and out of print to available in three formats in a matter of a month and a half: Open Road Media released an e-book on July 8, which quickly became a bestseller, and, in August, the publisher will put out a paperback edition and Penguin Random House Audio will release an audiobook.
Before Gates touted the book, introduced to him by Warren Buffett, in a July 11 essay in the Wall Street Journal, Open Road was already in talks with Craig Tenney at Harold Ober Associates, literary agent for the Brooks estate, about two other titles by the author, The Go Go Years and Once in Golconda. The agent mentioned that there was a third work, a book of the New Yorker writer’s essays on life in the financial and corporate worlds. Open Road picked up print and digital rights to Business Adventures (digital rights alone were up for grabs on the other two books), and a few weeks later, got the call that Gates would be publicizing the book, long out of print, as the greatest of its kind.
The book quickly shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list, and hit #2 on the New York Times e-book bestseller list. On August 12, Open Road will be publishing the paperback version of Business Adventures, timed with the e-book releases of the other two Brooks titles.
Tenney retained audio rights in the Open Road deal, and Open Road founder and president Jane Friedman had an idea about a good home for the audiobook. “Audio has always been a big part of my life,” says Friedman, who also founded the Random House Audio Publishing Group, in 1985, and headed up the unit until she left to become president and CEO of HarperCollins in 1997. “When I thought of my old stomping grounds, I thought, that’s great,” she adds. Open Road connected the acquisitions team at PRH Audio with Tenney, Harold Ober agent Jake Elwell, and the estate, and, by July 15, the group had secured audio rights to the title.
“I knew I wanted to listen to this on audio,” says Amanda D’Acierno, senior v-p and publisher at Penguin Random House Audio. D’Acierno says that a book recommendation by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates “immediately piqued [her] interest, both as a publisher and a consumer. But in addition to my personal interest, business is a strong category for audiobooks, With so many businesspeople multitasking and traveling, audiobooks work well with their lifestyle.”
To record the audiobook, PRH cast veteran narrator Johnny Heller, who made his way to the publisher’s uptown studio by July 21, less than a week after acquisition. The audiobook will be available for download on August 19, with a CD edition to follow on September 2, which, according to D’Acierno, sets a new PRH Audio record for quickest turnaround time from discovery to publication.
According to Heller, to complete the entire 17-hour recording, the production team spent more than 40 hours in the studio over five days, forcing him to alter his prep-work routine. “Since Penguin Random House Audio was working to wrap this recording as quickly as possible, I had much less time than usual to prep,” notes Heller. “So it was a little difficult in that respect. I have never narrated a single thing that I haven’t read beforehand. With the contracted schedule for this project, there were a few late nights familiarizing myself with the material before my first day in the studio.” He credits close cooperation with the director Rich Harris and engineers Iris McElroy and Richie Romaniello as key to getting the production done in record time.
D’Acierno characterized the tandem publishing effort with Open Road as “exciting,” adding that the two companies have had a “great partnership” on all phases of the process.
“It’s a good to collaborate with Random House, because all formats raise all formats,” says Friedman. “It’s nice to share the spotlight.”
Friedman continues, “Let’s not forget this is a book published in 1969. [Open Road publisher] Tina Pohlman tells me that was the year she was born. It certainly does show why I started Open Road and that’s the mission in this case—to bring the great back to life.” Speaking to teaming up with another company to fulfill that mission, Friedman called the end result a “win-win everywhere.”
*This article has been corrected. The print version of this article incorrectly stated that John Brooks was a New York contributor. He was a New Yorker contributor.