Book CEO exits at Viacom

Exec ankles, segues to post with Leeds Weld & Co.

Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Newcomb stepped down Thursday as Viacom moved to boost synergies between the book division and its TV and film assets.

S&S, previously a stand-alone unit of Viacom, will be integrated into the Viacom Entertainment Group — the branch of the company encompassing the Paramount film and TV studio, theme park operations and other assets. S&S prexy Jack Romanos, who succeeds Newcomb as CEO, will report to Entertainment Group topper Jonathan Dolgen.

Move comes a day after a Viacom board meeting reportedly focused on the much-discussed tension between Viacom chair Sumner Redstone and chief exec Mel Karmazin.

Though the changes at S&S were a likely topic of discussion, an S&S spokesman termed the two events unrelated.

Going to Leeds Weld

Newcomb, who has basked in Wall Street’s good graces since orchestrating the sale of S&S’ reference and textbook operations to Pearson for close to $1 billion in 1998, is leaving to take a job with the New York-based private equity firm of Leeds Weld & Co.

“Having successfully completed Simon & Schuster’s transition into a stand-alone consumer publishing company, with efficient state-of-the-art systems and support operations, I can now move on to other opportunities and challenges,” Newcomb said in a statement.

The integration of Viacom’s books and entertainment assets may finally quash speculation that Viacom was planning to get out of the book biz altogether.

Good year

At a time when some publishers are offering gloomy prognostications about the state of the book market, Romanos highlighted the house’s performance in 2001, a year in which it had 14 New York Times bestsellers, two National Book Award winners and two Caldecott honorees.

S&S is a tiny part of Viacom, providing roughly 3% of its total revenues. But Thursday, Karmazin and Dolgen extolled the book division, highlighting its compatibility with the film and TV operations.

Karmazin called S&S “a growing, profitable — and integral — part of the Viacom family,” and Dolgen said the conglom “will take full advantage of the potential to increase revenues by growing the number and variety of collaborative projects.”

Synergy a priority

It’s impossible to put a value on the synergistic potential of Viacom’s intertwined book and film operation, but S&S has made synergy a priority. Viacom brands like Nickelodeon, MTV and “Star Trek” already enjoy flourishing book franchises there, and S&S just created a stand-alone imprint devoted to the WWF.

But beyond the book tie-ins and the new reporting structure, the integration of S&S and the Viacom Entertainment Group may have few concrete ramifications in the short term. As one S&S staffer put it, “Do I think a Paramount homevideo rep is going to be selling a Simon & Schuster bag? No.”