Surprise at last week's announcement of Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau's departure from Riverhead Books to establish a new division at the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group quickly gave way to speculation about the implications of the biggest publishing shakeup since Anne Godoff left Random House in 2003. Overall, the move was hailed as a coup for Random and a dramatic loss for Penguin. But because it opens up new positions at both companies, many see it as a win for editors looking to move in an industry with limited upward mobility.
The biggest jobs are at Riverhead, where Susan Petersen Kennedy, Penguin president and Riverhead founder, will look for a new publisher and senior editor to handle Riverhead's 30 annual titles. Within the company, the most obvious contenders are young editors who may not yet have the experience to take the helm: Sean McDonald, currently senior editor at Riverhead whose best-known author is James Frey, and Molly Stern, who was recently promoted to executive editor at Viking. Outside the house, Knopf's Jordan Pavlin, Bloomsbury's Gillian Blake and Norton's Jill Bialowsky were among the names floated by industry insiders. Meanwhile, Spiegel and Grau will hire editors and marketing and publicity staffs to help handle their annual list of 30 titles.
Doubleday chief Steve Rubin won kudos for hiring Spiegel and Grau, who are widely recognized for their skills in publishing as well as editing upmarket bestsellers. Industry watchers also gave Rubin props for parlaying the proceeds from The Da Vinci Code into the launch of a prominent new division without buying a small company.
But some questioned how long Doubleday will be able to keep its acquisitions war chests full, given Rubin's commitments not just to Doubleday, Broadway and the Christian division Waterbrook, but also to two other high-profile, albeit smaller, startup imprints: Morgan Road Books, helmed by Amy Hertz, and Flying Dolphin Press, run by Suzanne Herz.
"That's the Random House approach: just hire all the talented editors and let them slug it out," said one editor who recently left the company. "But hiring all those editors doesn't increase the amount of good books that are on offer at any given time, or the number of consumers who will embrace them in a flat market."
For Penguin's Kennedy, Spiegel and Grau's departure was widely seen as a professional and personal blow, particularly in a year when Spiegel's runaway bestseller The Kite Runner has been a key contributor to Penguin's 2005 revenues.
While Spiegel spun the move to Doubleday as a chance to prove that she and Grau could build a major division independently, they will do it in a distinctly different editorial climate. On the plus side, they can now bid for projects against editors at other Random imprints, rather than scrum internally, as they did at Penguin, where no more than one editor can bid on a single project. On the other hand, they may find Rubin, who has walked away from big projects rather than overspend, to be somewhat more restrained than Kennedy.