Reidy: 'We don
Carolyn Reidy, president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, admits to The Bookseller that she has a big task on her hands, albeit one she relishes.
Carolyn Reidy, the straight-talking former president of Simon & Schuster’s adult publishing division, was unsurprisingly elevated to the top position at the beginning of the year upon the retirement of long-standing c.e.o. Jack Romanos.
The problem for Reidy is that 2007 just happened to be the best year in S&S' history, with sales up 10% to $886m (£445m), and operating income before depreciation and amortisation of $97.2m.
Reidy becomes visibly energised when asked if taking over a business at the top of its game is a tough proposition. "I'll say that it is quite a challenge." She is bolstered by the fact that it was her adult division, led by Rhonda Byrne's The Secret, that accounted for much of the success of the group. But, as she admits, the company cannot stand still. "You don't exactly want to change something that is operating at that kind of level," she says, before adding that "flat is not an acceptable state".
In the US, Reidy has combined the sales and marketing departments and unified the company's digital efforts under new chief digital officer, Elinor Hirschhorn. But it is from her international divisions that she aims to capture growth: "We hope the UK will help us out," she says, seriously.
S&S UK, which this year celebrates its 21st birthday, is the smallest British subsidiary of all the big publishing groups, and Reidy is prepared to acquire to change that. "It is not like there is natural acquisition sitting there," she says. "But if there was, we would be in the market for it." She wants the UK arm to grow to sales of £100m within five years, roughly three times its current size. "We don’t think small."
This is not a criticism of the UK business, which also enjoyed a strong 2007. "They have been working overtime to really strengthen the organisation in terms of the people, the books and the way they publish. It is finally all coalescing: that is what happens in an organisation—and in publishing." According to UK m.d. Ian Chapman, Reidy's appointment represents "a chance in a lifetime".
Reidy points to S&S' recent global deal with historical novelist Philippa Gregory as why it pays to have strong international subsidiaries. "Philippa made the move possible, because she wanted one worldwide publisher. We can't just pick other authors off—we do believe in author loyalty. But we want to make S&S is the kind of place they would think to go to when they are unhappy."
In person Reidy belies her feisty and aggressive reputation, as forged during the Turf Wars debate two years ago when she accused UK publishers of a "land grab". If anything she is conciliatory now talking about the subject: "Despite the fact that I have become a poster child for one point of view, there are a lot of very interesting aspects to it that we need to explore as publishers."
According to Reidy it was a "discussion" that never happened last time around: "It started out as a demand. The British started going into agents making demands, changing the rules under which we had been operating. It wasn't a discussion, it was an attempt to say: 'We demand this'."
The argument has yet to run its course, and her view has not altered since taking on the management of a UK publisher. "We still believe that competition is better than no competition," she says, adding that S&S will not follow Hachette in drawing up internal demarcation lines.
She expects further battles, particularly with questions over digital rights and author royalties yet to be fully addressed, but she is treading carefully after S&S' recent spat with the US Authors Guild over a change in its author contracts: "We saw Gail Rebuck in the UK trying to set a new royalty rate for e-books, so you know there will be skirmishes all over the place. Our feeling is that until we know differently let's just do it the same way we have been doing: an industry standard will evolve once there is a business, but at the moment there isn't the money to fight over."
S&S has something of a chequered recent history, with the commitment of its previous corporate owner Viacom repeatedly questioned during the tenure of Romanos. Since the Viacom split, with S&S becoming part of CBS, the corporate relationship has settled: in fact the publishing business was the fastest-growing unit in 2007, "a unique feeling", says Reidy. "After all those years of rumours about having a 'for sale' sign on us, for the first time we feel that we are very much appreciated."
But it is a two-way process for Reidy, with the "books" and the "business" entwined: "The corporation gives us a lot of money to pay these authors and support them, and it is our job to give them back money in exchange for that. It behoves us to do it in a fiscally responsible way so that we can continue to do it."