In his most significant move since he took over Perseus Books Group three months ago, company president David Steinberger announced last week that the publisher will close the company's Westview office in Colorado and eliminate a number of positions in Perseus's offices in New York City, Philadelphia and Cambridge, Mass.
The total number of employees to be let go is approximately 30, or just under 15% of Perseus's staff. Steinberger also said that the moves will ultimately reduce title count "from 600-plus to 500-plus," but hoped this would put the company "in a stronger position to publish each book" by leaving it with four main divisions: Basic, Da Capo, Public Affairs and Running Press. There will be no additional layoffs "for the foreseeable future," Steinberger said.
About one-third of the layoffs come from Westview's Boulder, Colo., office; one-third from Running Press in Philadelphia; and the remaining third from New York and Cambridge (where Da Capo is based). While the trade department of Westview will close and the academic-publishing branch of Westview will move to New York, folded in under Basic publisher Elizabeth Maguire, the company will retain the Perseus production and academic marketing office in Colorado.
Beyond Westview, most of the cuts come from what Steinberger called "shared-services" positions, such as contracts. Steinberger did add that the house will make several new hires in areas where it previously had little presence, such as Web marketing.
The changes will result in an expanded role for Carolyn Savarese, v-p director of international publishing and export sales. Her duties will now include managing publishing contracts and international sales, as well as overseeing all sub rights.
Among the most prominent on the list of names leaving the company is Dawn Sefarian, who had edited the Counterpoint list from New York; she will leave at the end of June. Maguire said the Counterpoint list will continue, but that it will focus on literary nonfiction. It will not have a dedicated editor.
Steinberger said the changes stem from his "taking a fresh look at the company." The original model, of shared services but diverse editorial, "is sound," he said. "It's a question of how you can execute it."
Sources indicated that the last week had seen tense meetings among executives and some concern among lower-level employees. Asked about the internal reaction, Maguire said, "Change is always unsettling in the short run, but I think there's a real strategy in place here, and I haven't sensed any dissension among the troops."
The moves reinforce the degree to which the look and ambitions of the house have changed. Almost one year ago, the company was poised to buy AOLTW Book Group. Today, the architect of that failed expansion, Jack McKeown, is gone, and some higher-profile staff, such as David Goehring and John Donatich (who departed in December 2002) also have left the hybrid firm. Of the major imprints, Public Affairs has stayed closest to intact, while several of the house's well-known executives, such as John Hughes and Matty Goldberg, remain, albeit in changed roles.
Steinberger took over three months ago with a reputation for streamlining at his previous job. But he said it was a mistake to think of his Harper experience as tea leaves for how Perseus might change. "This is a unique place with a unique history. It's a different kind of publisher than Harper. Whatever we do has to make sense for the Perseus Books Group."