Publishing Not Immune to Cuts at AOL Time Warner
Jim Milliot -- 1/29/01
Company discontinues continuities program; Little, Brown's Crichton dismissed

As part of its effort to streamline the newly merged AOL Time Warner, the media conglomerate is shutting down the direct-mail division at Time-Life Books, a move that will eliminate 100 positions. As a result of the closing, Time-Life Trade Publishing president Neil Levin will now report to TWTP president Maureen Egen; Levin had reported to Jim Nelson, president of Time-Life Inc. Separately, at Time Warner Trade Publishing, Little, Brown publisher Sarah Crichton was replaced by Michael Pietsch.

Founded in 1961, the Time-Life direct-mail division produced continuity series on a wide range of topics that included history, cooking and do-it-yourself. Closing the division will mean job losses at the unit's product development and editorial operations in Alexandria, Va.; the fulfillment group in Richmond, Va.; and the warehouse operation in Indianapolis, Ind. The closing d s not affect Time-Life's direct-mail music business.

A spokesperson for AOL Time Warner said the publication of continuity programs did not fit in with the company's future plans. The announcement was not a major surprise, as the book continuity program had been struggling financially for a number of years. Indeed, the entire mail-order segment in the book industry has seen sales decline for about a decade, and many companies that had produced continuity programs, such as Meredith and Rodale, have abandoned the business.

Meanwhile, Time-Life Trade Publishing, which had published about 80 titles a year, will likely cut its list to about 50 books, according to Larry Kirshbaum, chairman of TWTP. The division focuses on books in general nonfiction, cooking, health and do-it-yourself, which are sold through the retail market. It also has an active custom publishing business.

While the closing of the continuity unit was not a surprise, the dismissal of Crichton was. Crichton joined LB in early 1996, and the division was coming off two years in which sales and profits rose. Concerns about future profitability and friction between Crichton and Kirshbaum about how to move forward led to Crichton's departure. "It was a difference in philosophy," Kirshbaum told PW. Sources said matters were further complicated by Crichton's resistance to the idea for LB to adopting a publishing approach similar to that of Warner Books. Kirshbaum said he is committed to maintaining separate editorial identities for Little, Brown and Warner, but added that he would like to see LB do a better job of marketing and merchandising its list. He said LB is looking to hire a new senior literary editor, and he called Pietsch "one of the finest editors in the business today." No further changes at LB are planned, Kirshbaum insisted.

Pietsch joined LB in 1991 and had been editor-in-chief. He has been responsible for such bestselling books as Roses Are Red by James Patterson, White Oleander by Janet Fitch and The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve. He will report to Egen.