Richard Snyder, who built Simon & Schuster into the biggest publisher of its day in a long and tempestuous career, died June 6 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 90.
Known to his friends and enemies alike as Dick, Snyder joined S&S in 1960 and served as president from 1975 to 1986, CEO from 1978 to 1994, and chairman from 1986 until 1994, when he was famously fired by Frank Biondi Jr., president of S&S parent company Viacom, in a move that stunned the publishing industry. At the time of his firing, S&S had revenue of about $2 billion and had businesses in all parts of publishing—education, professional, as well as trade, the only segment where it now operates.
Before Snyder’s acquisition spree began in 1983, S&S sales were about $200 million. During his time heading the company, Snyder oversaw approximately 60 acquisitions, including the 1984 purchase of Prentice Hall, one of the largest publishing deals up to that point. His last major acquisition was the purchase of Macmillan—a company distinct from today's Macmillan—which added college publishing, adult trade, and a large children’s operation to S&S.
In a statement from S&S, the publisher remembered Snyder as the person who led the company “through some of its most storied and eventful years.” S&S credited Snyder for building S&S “into one of the largest and most influential publishing companies in the world, known for headline-making nonfiction, bestselling fiction and timeless classics. He leaves a legacy of enduring books and a can-do spirit that pervades Simon & Schuster to this day.”
After his exit from S&S, Snyder tried for a second act, forming an investment group to buy Western Publishing, the publisher of the hugely popular Golden Books children’s franchise, which had been losing money. His bid to broaden the children’s publisher into a major publisher and media company failed, and after enduring two bankruptcy proceedings, the assets of the Golden Books Family Entertainment Company were sold to Random House and Classic Media.
During his time in publishing, Snyder was as powerful, feared, and colorful a figure as the modern industry has seen. Famous for his tirades and penchant for firing employees, Snyder nonetheless led a company that published hundreds of critically acclaimed titles as well as commercial successes. He was also active within all aspects of publishing. When the National Book Awards were struggling in the 1980s, Snyder, along with such industry heavyweights as Larry Hughes, Al Silverman, and Alberto Vitale, banded together to create the National Book Foundation, which put the program on a much sounder financial footing and increased its visibility within the industry. He also helped to revive International PEN, and served two stints as a board member of the Association of American Publishers.
His private life was also a topic of industry gossip, particularly his 1990 divorce from Joni Evans, one of the first women to crack the upper ranks of publishing. Evans served as president and publisher of Simon & Schuster (1977–1989) and publisher at Random House (1989–1994), and after leaving RH, was senior v-p of the William Morris Agency until 2006.
At the time of Snyder’s firing from S&S, Roger Straus, the CEO of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who was often critical of Snyder’s acquisition strategy, called his ouster sad, observing, “It’s sad like the song says, ‘It’s sad when the great ship went down.’ We disagreed about almost everything, but it is bad for publishing. Dick was a good publisher who published a lot of good books.”