While four of the Big Five publishers were involved in actions that will alter how they publish in the future, the two biggest book business stories of 2023 played out across all aspects of the business over the course of the year. In an attempt to stop the surge in book bans and attacks on the freedom to read, various industry members banned together to file lawsuits in Florida, Iowa, and Texas. And debate over the impact of AI on publishing heated up over the course of the year, with the business searching for a path to adopt the technology in order to maximize its benefits and minimize its potential for massive disruptions.

The following are the biggest book business stories of 2023:

10. The Deaths of Adrienne Vaughan and Casey McIntyre

The industry suffered two untimely deaths in the year. Adrienne Vaughan, president of Bloomsbury Publishing USA, died on August 3 in a boating accident off the Amalfi Coast of Italy while vacationing with her husband and two children. She was 45.

“Adrienne was a natural business leader with a great future ahead of her,” said Bloomsbury chief executive Nigel Newton. “She was deeply loved by colleagues due to her combination of great personal warmth with a fierce determination to make the business succeed and grow.”

Vaughan had become increasingly active in industry issues, and in 2023, she was elected to the board of the Association of American Publishers. “Adrienne was a leader of dazzling talent and infectious passion and had a deep commitment to authors and readers,” said AAP board chair Julia Reidhead, who is also chair and president of W.W. Norton, and Maria A. Pallante, AAP president and CEO, in a joint statement. “Most of all she was an extraordinary human being, and those of us who had the opportunity to work with her will be forever fortunate.”

On November 12, publicist-turned-publisher Casey McIntyre died at home in New York from ovarian cancer. She was 38. McIntyre began her career at Penguin Young Readers as a publicist and, after leaving Penguin for HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2012, she returned to Penguin as associate publisher of the Razorbill imprint, and was named v-p and publisher in 2018. She assumed the new role of v-p and editor-at-large at Putnam Books for Young Readers in 2023.

“Casey radiated a quiet confidence that immediately put you at ease,” said Shanta Newlin, senior v-p and executive director of publicity at Penguin Young Readers. “She truly loved what she did, whether it was shepherding a new book into the world, making fashion statements with her husband, Andrew, or raising her incredible daughter, Grace! I will miss her dearly.”

To honor her memory, McIntyre’s family created a fundraising campaign to help other people pay off their medical debt. The campaign quickly surpassed its initial goal of $20,000, and has since raised more than $1 million.

9. Hachette Livre Combines U.S. and U.K. Operations

In a move that caught the industry by surprise, Hachette Livre, the book publishing arm of Lagardère Group, announced that it would bring the Hachette Book Group and its U.K.-based counterpart, Hachette UK, into what it calls “a new English-language management structure.” Under the reorganization, HUK CEO David Shelley takes on the CEO role for both HBG and HUK, reporting to Hachette Livre deputy CEO Stéphanie Ferran and Hachette Livre chairman and CEO Arnaud Lagardère.

As part of the move, effective January 1, Michael Pietsch retires as HBG’s CEO after 11 years, becoming chairman, while HBG COO Joe Mangan also retires. Few operational details on how the new organization will function have been released other than assurances that Shelley will spend most of his time in New York.

8. FTC Files Antitrust Suit Against Amazon

The Federal Trade Commission, supported by 17 state attorneys general, finally filed its long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Amazon on September 26. In a 172-page complaint, the government alleged that the e-tailer “uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power.” The use of that power, the government continued, allows Amazon “to stop rivals and sellers from lowering prices, degrade quality for shoppers, overcharge sellers, stifle innovation, and prevent rivals from fairly competing against Amazon.”

Although the suit doesn’t directly examine Amazon’s role in the book business, the immediate industry reaction to the news of the suit was uniform: “What took so long?” Independent booksellers, which were the first physical retailers impacted by Amazon and the steep discounting on books it employed to attract customers, praised the FTC’s long-awaited action. The lawsuit, said ABA CEO Allison Hill, “is good news for indie bookstores and good news for all small business.”

In December, lawyers for Amazon filed a motion urging a federal court to dismiss the suit, calling the case wrong on the facts and the law. A long legal battle is certain to play out before the case is resolved.

7. HarperCollins Downsizes

With sales slumping and costs rising, HarperCollins initiated a 5% workforce reduction in its North American workforce in January. As part of the cuts, HC closed its Harper Design unit in April, moving its titles to other imprints. The reductions, mandated by parent company News Corp., were originally set to be completed by June 30—the end of HC’s fiscal year—but the company continued to make changes throughout 2023 in what CEO Brian Murray called a transformation of the company designed "to identify new ways to work smarter and more efficiently.”

In July, HC closed YA imprint Inkyard Press and laid off its five-person staff. A broader restructuring occurred in September, when Liate Stehlik, president and publisher of the Morrow Group, was appointed president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books as well, taking over for Suzanne Murphy, who had headed the group since 2015. Two months after assuming the leadership of the children’s group, Stehlik implemented a multi-pronged reorganizing effort that included the appointment of Rich Thomas as executive director of publishing at HCCB. In addition, the children’s group’s integrated marketing, marketing design, and rights teams were combined with those of William Morrow.

HC did manage to reach a deal with its union in February, ending a three-month strike.

6. Book Fair Controversy Grips Scholastic

Amid a chorus of criticism from authors, librarians, educators, and freedom to read advocates, Scholastic announced in late October that its book fair group would stop selling the “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” case, which had been designed as an optional collection of diverse books for schools. The company said that it had created the collection as a way to continue providing diverse books as a number of states and localities pursue legislation or other policies around content selection that could put librarians and school officials in jeopardy.

Critics, however, bristled at the idea of having diverse books segregated at book fairs, pointing out that many of the books in the offering—a case of 64 titles amplifying BIPOC, LGBTQ, disabled, and other diverse perspectives—were not controversial, and that Scholastic was wrongly treating them as a dispensable option. Scholastic said that the “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” case will be formally discontinued starting in January 2024, and that it “will find an alternate way to get a greater range of books into the hands of children.”

Scholastic’s bottom line took a direct hit from the controversy. Profit growth in the second quarter in its school reading division, which includes book fairs and book clubs, was lower than expected. Executives attributed the slower growth to a host of “external factors,” including a “complex” school environment. In a conference call, CEO Peter Warwick explained that the more challenging school environment reflected “growing polarization in U.S. society and politicized schools and school boards, higher rates of absenteeism, and chronic teacher shortages. Together, these factors have put greater demands on schools and teachers, including through expanded restrictions on educators, parents, and kids’ ability to choose books.”

Scholastic said that it expected challenging conditions to remain for its fiscal year, which ends in May. As a result, the company lowered its sales and earnings for the full year.

5. Court Rules Against Internet Archive

Three years after Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Internet Archive, the case took a number of steps toward an eventual resolution. The most important of these was a March decision by judge John G. Koeltl, which found that the Internet Archive infringed the copyrights of the four publishers by scanning and lending their books under a legally contested practice known as controlled digital lending.

“At bottom, IA’s fair use defense rests on the notion that lawfully acquiring a copyrighted print book entitles the recipient to make an unauthorized copy and distribute it in place of the print book, so long as it does not simultaneously lend the print book,” Koeltl wrote in a March 24 opinion granting the publisher plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and denying the Internet Archive’s cross-motion. “But no case or legal principle supports that notion. Every authority points the other direction.”

Lawyers for the Internet Archive filed an appeal in mid-December, arguing that Koeltl misunderstood the facts and misapplied the law and telling the U.S. Court of Appeals for Second Circuit that the decision should be reversed. “The core question for every fair use case is whether copyright’s goals ‘would be better served by allowing the use than by preventing it.’ The district court lost sight of that question,” the IA’s opening appeal brief states.

In terms of the case’s timeline going forward, the publishers are expected to file their appeal brief in February, with an IA reply to follow—meaning it will likely be at least six months before a hearing date is set.

4. Penguin Random House Gets an Overhaul

The victory by the government, in late 2022, to block Penguin Random House’s purchase of Simon & Schuster and the subsequent resignation of global CEO Markus Dohle guaranteed changes would come to the world’s largest trade publisher. And by any measure, 2023 was a momentous year for PRH. During the year, PRH saw the resignation of PRH CEO Madeline McIntosh, the retirement of Random House Publishing Group head Gina Centrello, and the departure of scores of well-known executives and upper-level employees who took PRH’s voluntary severance package, which was offered to employees 60 and older who had been with PRH for at least 15 years. Just some of the editors who left were Ann Close, Rick Kot, Paul Slovak, and Wendy Wolf. The severance package was accompanied by summer layoffs that CEO Nihar Malaviya said were needed to offset rising costs. (In September, Malaviya, who had been interim global CEO, was named the permanent leader of PRH.)

Along with downsizing the company, PRH also made some structural moves, the most significant of which was to divide the Random House Publishing Group into two separate operations, a smaller RHPG and a reconstituted Crown Publishing Group (CPG)—albeit with some significant differences from its prior iteration, which was folded into the RH group in 2017. Sanyu Dillon, previously chief marketing officer for PRH, was named president of RHPG, and David Drake was promoted to president of CPG. As part of the restructuring, Malaviya also declined to appoint a single successor to McIntosh, choosing to create a committee composed of various division heads to lead the company.

More streamlining took place in September, when the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group announced that it was ending the Anchor hardcover publishing program gradually moving Anchor paperback titles over to Vintage Books. The changes—which also saw Suzanne Herz, the executive v-p and publisher of Vintage/Anchor Books and executive director of publishing at Doubleday, take a buyout— effectively meant that Anchor, which was founded in 1953 as an imprint of Doubleday, would be phased out.

The revamping of PRH wasn’t just about cuts, however. The publisher also upped its stake in Sourcebooks to 53% in the year, funded the Sourcebooks acquisition of the assets of Callisto Media, and, at the end of the year, acquired Hay House.

While PRH executives resisted the idea that the massive changes represented a generational shift at the company, it is impossible to overlook the fact that a new generation is now moving into prominent positions at the publisher.

3. KKR Wins Simon & Schuster

The private equity firm KKR completed its $1.62 billion acquisition of Simon & Schuster on October 30. KKR emerged as the winning bidder in early August after Penguin Random House’s acquisition for S&S was blocked by the government in late 2022. The publisher will continue to be led by current CEO Jonathan Karp, who was also appointed to the new S&S board. Among those joining Karp on the board are former PRH US CEO Madeline McIntosh and KKR head of media Richard Sarnoff.

With the support of KKR, S&S is expected to ramp up its growth initiatives, which include broadening its domestic publishing program across various categories, expanding its distribution business, and accelerating growth in international markets. To meet these goals, S&S is expected to make its first meaningful acquisitions in years sometime in 2024.

In its first major hire following completion of the deal, S&S named Little, Brown editor-in-chief Judy Clain senior v-p and publisher of Summit Books, with a mandate to revive and refocus the imprint. During its run from 1976 to 1991, Summit published books by such authors with international appeal as James Baldwin ad Elie Wiesel.

The KKR purchase could also prove to be a boon to S&S employees, who will have the chance take part in an employee ownership program—which could give employees a substantial payout should S&S be sold at some later date.

2. AI Debate Heats Up

Debate over the impact of generative AI on all aspects of the publishing industry picked up steam throughout 2023, and is certain to be a major flashpoint in 2024. In a September PW webinar, author and publisher Michael Bhaskar called the development of AI “an earthquake moment.” He pointed to the fundamental AI-related challenge facing publishing: everyone knows it is coming, but there has yet to be any agreement on how to regulate it—or monetize it fairly. “It is an IP challenge without precedent,” he said. Other speakers largely agreed, saying that the key to successfully integrating AI into publishing is to find a way to balance such potential positives as increased efficiency with concerns over job loss and widespread copyright violations.

Worries over copyright led to a wave a lawsuits against creators of large language model AI technology, including a July suit by authors charging that their copyrights had been infringed by companies that used their material in AI training. In early hearings, however, key claims have been dismissed. In December, the AAP hit the copyright theme in comments submitted to the U.S. Copyright Office. In its submission, the AAP insisted that copyright law protects authors, creators, and publishers from the unauthorized appropriation of their works by AI developers, slamming assertions by the tech industry that fair use permits developers to use copyrighted works to train their systems without permission or compensation.

Amazon entered the AI debate through two posts in its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) community platform. In the first, Amazon said that it was requiring KDP users to inform it if AI-generated content was used “when you publish a new book or make edits to and republish an existing book through KDP.” In a November 1 post, Amazon's self-publishing arm announced that it had begun a beta test on technology allowing KDP authors to produce audiobook versions of their e-books using virtual voice narration. Early indications are that the test has resulted in a flood of new audiobooks.

1. Fighting Book Bans

The instances of book banning and other attacks on the freedom to read continued apace in 2023, with one notable difference—the publishing industry began a concerted effort to fight back.

In May, Penguin Random House joined PEN America, a group of authors, and a group of parents in filing a federal lawsuit against a Florida school district over the “unconstitutional” removal of books from school libraries. The suit alleges that administrators and school board members in Florida’s Escambia County School District are violating the First and 14th Amendments because the books being singled out are “disproportionately books by non-white and/or LGBTQ+ authors” and often address “themes or topics” related to race or the LGBTQ community. The suit seeks to have the district’s actions declared unconstitutional and the banned books returned to library shelves.

In July, an even bigger coalition—comprising two Texas bookstores, BookPeople and Blue Willow Bookshop, together with the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund—filed a lawsuit seeking to strike down a controversial Texas book banning law, HB 900. Among the law's provisions is one mandating that “library material vendors,” including booksellers and publishers, create and implement a rating system for books sold into Texas schools and school libraries based on the book's “sexual” content. The group scored what seemed to be a major victory in September, when judge Alan D. Albright issued an opinion officially blocking the law from taking effect.

However, in early October, an appeals court issued a ruling letting HB 900 take effect while an appeals process plays out, despite a district court finding the law to be “a web of unconstitutionally vague requirements.” In a November 29 hearing, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the Texas district court was right to issue an order blocking the book rating law and urged the court to immediately lift an administrative stay. A ruling is expected very early in January.

While the industry waits for a decision in the Texas case, on November 30, PRH and the Iowa State Education Association, along with four bestselling authors and five plaintiffs from the state of Iowa, filed a federal lawsuit against Iowa to block the book ban provisions of SF 496, the state's sweeping new law that critics say seeks to silence LGBTQ students and bans books with sexual or LGBTQ content. The suit takes aim solely at “the portions of Senate File 496 that require the removal of books from school libraries and classroom collections in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” as per the complaint.