In addition to Free Press coming under the new S&S Publishing Group, the restructuring moved Touchstone from the responsibility of Levin to the Scribner group under Susan Moldow, while the Atria Publishing group added Howard Books. Gallery was not affected by the changes. (See our chart.)
It’s a bit premature to eulogize an imprint that is, according to its parent company, still alive. Nonetheless, former Free Press staffers and others in the industry took to social media last week, offering what sounded like remembrances, when Simon & Schuster announced that the Free Press would be folded into the Simon & Schuster Publishing Group. The move, which is a result of restructuring at S&S, resulted in the imprint’s two highest ranking executives, publisher Martha K. Levin and editorial director Dominick Anfuso, being let go. Jonathan Karp, who oversees the group, told PW, when asked about FP, that “reports of our death are premature.”
Before the reorganization, determining what, exactly, defined a Free Press book was not simple. While the imprint has long been known for serious nonfiction, its latest spate of bestsellers are in categories like diet, health, and self-help. This year, the imprint’s titles that have spent the most weeks on the Publishers Weekly bestseller lists are Mike Moreno’s The 17-Day Diet (20 weeks); David B. Agus’s The End of Illness (10 weeks); and Brendon Burchard’s Charge: Activating the 10 Human Drives That Make You Feel Alive.
Despite the apparent strength in health/self-help, Karp said that, moving forward, the emphasis at FP will be on serious nonfiction, which he defined as “works by scholars and other authorities whose books appeal to a broader readership.” (In his employee memo, Karp said the focus at FP would be on “well-established brands” and “nurturing the superb backlist.”) Asked whether the 100 or so titles currently scheduled from FP might be moved to other imprints within his group, Karp said the decision would be made “on a book-by-book basis in consultation with agents and authors.” S&S will, he also confirmed, continue to acquire new titles for the Free Press imprint.
Historically, FP was molded in the image Karp now speaks about. Originally launched in Illinois by Jeremiah Kaplan and Charles Liebman as a religion house—which also did some sociology titles—FP was brought into the New York big-house fold in 1960 when Macmillan acquired it. Before it landed at S&S in 1994, the imprint at Macmillan was known for publishing conservative titles, with a variety of right-leaning publishers, including Adam Bellow (who now runs HarperCollins’s conservative imprint, Broadside Books) at the helm. At S&S, FP became more of a general nonfiction publisher, also dabbling in the occasional novel. Some of the imprint’s best-known titles include the controversial 1994 book The Bell Curve and Ben Mezrich’s 2003 hit, Bringing Down the House. (FP has also had success with fiction; in 2008 it published Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker winner, The White Tiger.)
Agents PW spoke to, all of whom expressed sadness about the departures of Levin and Anfuso, cited consolidation as a blow, no matter what. (The assumption is that cutbacks will lead to smaller lists and, therefore, fewer acquisitions.) Nonetheless, Karp’s oversight provided a silver lining. One agent—who said the sense with Free Press was that, in the years after The Bell Curve and being merged into S&S, it had its “distinctive identity/ideology dramatically diluted”—cited hope in the notion that the imprint could become Karp’s brain child. “Anything Jon Karp is involved with, I’d bank on,” he said.