Looking to inject life into a developing imprint as well as to capitalize on its reserves of talent, the New York Times will soon take a stricter position on reporters who write books for imprints other than Times Books.
In a statement, Tom Carley, news services president for the company, said, "The Times is currently reviewing its book policy, with an interest in having our reporters consider Times Books as a publishing partner. This would pertain to original works based on Times reporting, not Times-owned material, which is already published under the aegis of the Times." He added, "[A]ny new policy would still allow writers to go to alternate publishers with original works." The Times Books license is owned by Holt, which took it over in 1999 after the license lived at Random House for 15 years.
The statement follows an even stronger comment earlier in the week from New York Times executive editor Howell Raines. In a profile in the New Yorker, Raines said, "We are putting more emphasis on New York Times writers giving Times Books a first crack at efforts growing from their work for the Times. The guts of it is that we want first refusal."
What Raines means by this—and what conversations have taken place with Times Books editorial director David Sobel and Mitchel Levitas, who directs the Times's book development program—is unclear. Sources indicate there have been some conversations, but Sobel declined to comment, saying the issue is a matter of "internal Times policy." Raines did not return a call by press time.
Upon hearing about the change, some in the industry pointed out that it would make sense that Times Books, looking to develop an identity under Sobel and his team, wouldn't object to the newspaper steering big names its way. They also said that for the paper's part, it would stand to reason that it would want to bring more of its reporters under one imprint; according to some reports, it has been a longstanding thorn in the Times's side that other publishers reap benefits from money and cachet it provides to reporters.
Observers also wondered how far the paper would go in asking reporters not to submit to other houses. A strict position would likely cause an uproar among reporters and their agents, much as it did when the policy was put in place when the newspaper owned Times Books outright. "I have the greatest admiration for David Sobel and his colleagues," said agent Stuart Krichevsky, who represents former NYT Mexico bureau chief Anthony DePalma. "But I think they'd find that many writers would be very unhappy to have to be at any one place in particular. No one publisher is the right home for all the creative endeavors that might come out of as diverse a place as the Times. A first-refusal policy creates an awkward dynamic for everyone."