Random House CEO Peter Olson, who in recent months has flirted with a deal to buy AOL’s book division, may have been disappointed last week when his corporate parents at Bertelsmann’s headquarters in Gutersloh, Germany, abruptly called off the acquisition.
The merger would have subsumed AOL’s imprints, including Warner Books and Little, Brown, into a Random House family that already controls close to a third of the U.S. trade book market.
It likely would have led to job losses and consolidation at Warner Books and Little, Brown — two profitable imprints that were put on the block in an effort to raise money for their ailing parent company.
And for agents, it represented the latest in a long line of corporate mergers in recent years that have led to the disappearance of many imprints and reduced the number of outlets bidding for books.
“Bertelsmann is already so enormous, I can’t comprehend it,” says agent Mary Evans.
“Books have enormous cultural influence,” she adds. “If you don’t have someone tending the seedling — and that’s harder to do at a publishing house with 12 imprints — then you lose that diversity.”
Upon hearing rumors last month that Random House had closed a deal with AOL, Evans says she hadn’t been so depressed “since I heard that Doubleday was buying Random House.”