cheekily suggests that somebody “spiked the water” at 1745 Broadway. Outgoing RH executive editor-in-chief Daniel Menaker calls it “speed chess.” We more prosaic types might say musical chairs.

To wit: Daniel Menaker is leaving little Random after four years, his duties to be assumed by Jennifer Hershey and Kate Medina and augmented by new editor-at-large and RH author Kurt Andersen. Steve Ross, a decades-long veteran of Crown, is taking over the Collins part of HarperCollins; his director of publicity, Tina Constable, will replace him as publisher. Even at Doubleday/Broadway, arguably the most successful of the Bertelsmann imprints (thank you, Dan Brown), there are changes: Jackie Everly, the longtime associate publisher and executive director of marketing, is leaving, and Suzanne Herz, longtime RH employee and recent founder of the imprint Flying Dolphin Press, will assume Everly’s job. But even in a week that saw many other publishing personnel changes—Scott Moyers joining the Wylie Agency; Eamon Dolan leaving Houghton Mifflin to replace Moyers at the Penguin Press; Amy Einhorn leaving Hachette for Putnam—the switcheroos at Random House were stunning.

In the Menaker case, in particular, there were many sotto voce explanations. His departure signals Random House’s loss of interest in “literary publishing,” some said, since Menaker was hired in the first place to appease fears about a too-commercial merger between Random and Ballantine. It was personal, many said, opining that the New Yorker—trained editor and writer and the business-minded RH president and publisher Gina Centrello just plain didn’t get along. But while there’s probably some truth to both theories—literary fiction has been struggling for some time, not only at Random, and I’ve yet to see a professional breakup that didn’t involve some personal politics—they miss the point. Has no one noticed that none of the departing RH executives—going back to Don Weisberg, the COO of RH North America who left in February—is being replaced from the outside? (Centrello apparently interviewed editors for Menaker’s slot, but eventually decided to divvy up his duties instead, insiders say.)

That, to me, suggests that Random is indeed shifting focus, but not necessarily in fiction. At worst, the piling on of new jobs to longtime staffers with already full plates is a form of downsizing; at best, it might be that Random, like most publishers, will soon move its emphasis from the acquiring/editing side of the business to the less sexy but increasingly important distribution and marketing side. Editors and authors will always matter—somebody, after all, has to create all that “content” that will be disseminated in forms perhaps not yet invented—but the focus these days is more on selling direct, on digital “product” and on POD. (And not just at Random, which, by the way, also announced the promotion of Peter McCarthy to director, direct-to-consumer sales and operations—witness the recent S&S squabble over reversion rights.) That’s where houses’ energies are going, and that—more than who is buying what for whom—is the change that’s in the air.

And maybe the water.

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