In November of 2012 Herman Wouk, at age 97, spoke to Brooks Barnes of the New York Times about his newest book, The Law Giver, which had just been published by Simon & Schuster. But when Wouk utters the names “Simon & Schuster” he doesn’t necessarily mean the publishing company. Barnes notes that the author is old enough to remember Simon and Schuster as actual people, and Wouk opines that “they were as different as chalk and cheese.”
Perhaps that explains why the first two books published in 1924 were The Crossword Puzzle Book( Richard L. Simon’s brainchild) and Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy (Max Lincoln Schuster’s brainchild). It is this “combination of merchandise and serious works of intellectual power” that was so cutting edge and innovative, according to Carolyn K. Reidy, president/CEO of the publisher today. “That breadth has been true of Simon & Schuster ever since,” she continues. Reidy points out that the two founders also came up with the idea of returns during the Depression, to enable bookstores to keep ordering, and the idea of what she refers to as “chatty advertising.” In 1930 Essandess, as they liked to call themselves, launched “From the Inner Sanctum,” an advertising column that ran in Publishers Weekly and the New York Times. It dished news and extolled the virtues of books coming out of the S&S meeting room that was known as the “inner sanctum.”
Reidy says, “We’ve come full circle today,” with publishers eager to communicate directly with readers, albeit in different formats. Asked if this combination of merchandise and serious heavy-hitters can be maintained in the digital age, Reidy states that “both will survive,” but elucidates how, with approximately 30% of the reading market digital, there are differentiations across categories. She notes that the Duck Commander books are very big as physical books, while romance titles are highly digital. “Digital is somewhat replacing mass market publishing,” she continues, “ but using the same tricks and techniques such as introducing authors at lower price points, starting with genres, and then moving beyond. It’s the same product, the same processes, but we are reaching readers with new means.”
Jonathan Karp, president/publisher of the Simon & Schuster Publishing group, points out some of the remarkable examples of longevity. Wouk may be the leader with a 66 year span, but there are other prominent names who have been with S&S over the decades: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bob Woodward, Mary Higgins Clark, and David McCullough, to name a handful. Even Hillary Clinton, a most contemporary figure whose new book is out this June, has an 18-year history with the company.
And then there are the books that never stop selling, from well-known titles firmly embedded in the literary canon, such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters, and Garry Wills’s Lincoln at Gettysburg. Karp says, “As nonagenarians go, the publisher is an intellectually vibrant one.”
There’s a feisty septuagenarian rocking the house, too. In the late 1930s Simon, Schuster, and Leon Shimkin, who had joined the company earlier in the decade, teamed up with Robert Fair de Graff to create the first mass market publisher in the U.S., and as Louise Burke, president/publisher of Gallery Books, the unit that includes Pocket Books, says, “A revolution was born.” Just as in the 1930s, when distribution was as much a factor in this revolution as format and pricing, it is again today. Burke readily admits that the mass market format is changing. Much of what has been the mainstay of mass market publishing—including popular fiction and romance—is moving to digital formats. Burke notes that as mass market provided “a second format for authors to reach and grow their fan base, so does digital.”
Pocket’s 75th and S&S’s 90th are being celebrated throughout the year. A website, “A Lasting Imprint. 90 Years of Simon & Schuster” (www.simon90.com), was launched in January. Ninety titles were selected to represent the S&S library, and there is a consumer contest to win all 90 books. BookCon goers can enter to win at the Simon & Schuster booth (2639). And a limited number of tote bags—with books—will be given away, so it’s worth it to stop by and wish a happy anniversary to this venerable publishing dynasty.