January 28, 2019
PRH “shutters” progressive imprint Spiegel & Grau
by Alex Primiani
First reported by Rachel Deahl for Publishers Weekly, Penguin Random House announced last Friday its imprint Spiegel & Grau “is being shuttered” after 14 years of publishing such bestselling authors as Suze Orman (yeap), Ta-Nehisi Coates (I mean…what?), Trevor Noah (mhmm.), Bryan Stevenson (!!), JAY-Z, and many, many, more. Founding editors Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau will be leaving PRH entirely.
Alex Shephard, a staffer at the New Republic (and a former editor at this here Melville House) tweeted on Friday: “The Penguin Random House merger might be the slowest in business history.”
Alexandra Alter at the New York Times agrees with Shephard’s logic, stating in her own article that this recent closure of S&G is most certainly “part of a continuing effort to streamline Penguin Random House’s sprawling operation following the merger between Penguin and Random House in 2013.”
Alter continues, pointing out that the news came as a shock to many in the publishing industry, particularly because “the imprint had just completed one of its most successful years” in 2018.
According to PW’s earlier report on the closure, PRH commented on the current state of S&G’s authors. “Speaking to the fate of the books still scheduled to be published by S&G, PRH said that the imprint’s ‘amazing authors will be fully and proudly supported by Random House, The Dial Press, and One World.'”
One World was launched three years ago, headed by one of S&G’s most successful editors at the time, Chris Jackson. As this New York Times Magazine profile points out, Jackson was the editor of many of S&G’s bestselling authors, like Coates and Jay-Z.
Looking also at the recent history of consolidation and closure within PRH, Alter cites the fates of such imprints as Blue Rider Press, Crown and Random House. This bit, however, speaks to a curious and frustrating aspect of mergers in general, “Penguin Random House, which houses around 275 imprints worldwide and generates some $4 billion annually, has begun to look for ways to streamline its publishing lines, a move that could help to curb duplication across imprints.”
As Alter writes, “At a moment when editors and publishers were looking for books by authors from diverse backgrounds, the imprint became something of a magnet for books by African-American writers and cultural figures.”
So why would what S&G consistently publish be seen as any kind of “duplication” in this current state of publishing, and what impact (presumably negative) does that have on the bottom line of a company as massive as PRH?
For authors and publishing professionals alike, it might just be a clearer indicator of what troubles the industry will be facing in years to come.
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.