Jim Milliot stands on the cusp of retirement, having written his first news story in 1979, having been with Publishers Weekly for 30 years, and having risen through the magazine’s ranks to become editorial director, a position he’s fulfilled with unerring professionalism through all manner of industry and world tumult. For his years of service, mentorship, and dedication to objectively and fairly covering the books business, we are honoring him with the first-ever Frederic G. Melcher Lifetime Achievement Award.

No doubt, Jim’s had an amazing career. But his start at PW wasn’t the most auspicious.

In early 1993, he got a call from PW’s then-publisher, Fred Ciporen. Ciporen had been reading BP Report, a print newsletter that covered the business of publishing and was edited by Jim. Ciporen wanted to meet for lunch. Jim agreed, and on the appointed day, he showed up at PW’s offices on West 17th Street, but Ciporen was nowhere to be found. Turns out he had forgotten about the plans and was up at Random House for some meeting or another.

So Jim waited around for an hour before Ciporen returned, and though Ciporen later said he hadn’t gone in with an agenda other than to talk shop, by the time their conversation was done his mind was made up: he wanted to hire this guy. Maybe it was Jim’s fluency with the issues facing the industry; his encyclopedic knowledge of who was doing what, where, and for whom; or his digs about the quality of PW’s business coverage at the time—soon enough Jim was PW’s new business editor.

The book business of 1993 bears little if any resemblance to the one of today. Borders (remember them?) and Barnes & Noble were the 800-pound gorillas of bookselling. Nobody knew who Jeff Bezos was. Oprah was years away from naming her first book club selection. Publisher consolidation had yet to go into overdrive. Cormac McCarthy had just made his name with All the Pretty Horses after years of semi-obscurity. The internet hadn’t really happened yet.

Jim has covered all the seismic changes to the industry of the past 30 years with a remarkable diligence and singular focus on objectivity. Those of us who have worked with him know well his “just-the-facts-ma’am” ethos, and he’s stuck with it even as the tone of much of the media world has swerved into snark, hype, brick-tossing, spin, or plain nonsense. (One time he used an exclamation point in an email to me. It speaks volumes that I remember that.) That quality is what has put him in a place where people, no matter how highly positioned in the business, will return his calls.

“From cover to cover, from the first day we met at BEA in 2008, Jim was very balanced,” says Markus Dohle, former CEO of Penguin Random House. “I was never worried about anything with him, because of the way he conducted his profession—with a lot of integrity, dignity, and with the typical attributes of his character. Funny, optimistic, and just a very good partner.”

Oren Teicher, former CEO of the American Booksellers Association, met Jim shortly after starting with the ABA in 1990 and quickly came to appreciate him as a “consummate reporter.”

“He always knows the right questions to ask,” Teicher says. “He reports on what you said accurately and fairly. The world is full of inaccurate reporting, but with Jim you could always be confident that whatever it was he was asking about, and whatever it was you said in response, he’d report it accurately, fairly, and timely.”

To Jed Lyons, CEO of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Jim is the “classiest, most trustworthy journalist in the industry.”

“You could always trust him to do the right thing in his coverage,” Lyons says. “He would never try to pull a fast one on a source. That’s how he became arguably the most important journalist covering the book business over the past 50 years.”

I came to PW in summer 2005, my job being second from the bottom of the masthead. I was an associate reviews editor, so didn’t have a lot to do with Jim or the news operation back then, but I do remember rather vividly the intensely disorganized and chaotic state of his office. He was almost certainly in violation of multiple fire safety and building code regulations with the precarious stacks of papers piled on every flat surface. After we moved offices in 2010, it didn’t take more than a couple weeks for the paper towers to begin regenerating in what was previously a pristine space. (To his credit, he could usually find whatever scrap he needed at any given time, even if it was a financial report from seven years ago.)

Publishers Weekly has been on its own fairly wild ride over the past 15 years: change in ownership, changes in leadership, that whole pandemic thing, evolving from a weekly print magazine with a website to a digital media company. Jim’s been a steady hand at the tiller through all of it, and the whole organization is better off for it. Lucky for us he isn’t walking away entirely and will be staying involved in an editor-at-large capacity.

I was talking with Jim a bit about this piece, and he sent me some notes reflecting on his career. In all of them, he nods to everyone except himself. He tips his hat to his first boss, many of his former colleagues, his current colleagues, the business itself. Anyone who knows him knows he’d be the last person to give himself any credit. So, allow me to do so on behalf of a grateful staff and an industry that has relied on him for decades.

Thanks, Jim. We’re all better for having known you and worked with you. Every day, you put in the work, put out the fires, and were always there with good advice, a level head, and more willingness to be a sounding board than is probably reasonable. Here’s to what’s next.

Frederic G. Melcher Lifetime Achievement Award

This year, we are launching the Frederic G. Melcher Lifetime Achievement Award, an annual award recognizing individuals who have made a significant impact on the publishing business over the course of their careers.

The award is named after an influential figure in Publishers Weekly’s history. Melcher joined the magazine in 1918 and was involved with it for over 40 years, acting as, among other things, PW’s editor and chairman of its parent company, R.R. Bowker. Melcher also served as secretary of the American Booksellers Association, helped create the National Association of Publishers, founded the
Newbery Medal and Caldecott Medal for children’s books and the Carey-Thomas Awards for distinguished publishing, and helped
launch Children’s Book Week. As a model for a life filled with achievement, we thought this was a pretty good place to start.