Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews David Steinberger

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and its economics? Publishing Talks interviews help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

David Steinberger is well known now as the CEO and President of The Perseus Books Group.  Perseus is in many ways, a creation of the unusual business conditions that have marked the book industry over the past dozen years.  The company began as a relatively small independent book publisher, growing over time via acquisitions of usually unwanted or under appreciated business units of other companies.  Today it is made up of about 10 seperate imprints. Its six main publishing divisions include PublicAffairs (non-fiction), Running Press (fiction and non-fiction titles), Basic Books (non-fiction), Da Capo (non-fiction), Vanguard (fiction and non-fiction), and Avalon Travel (travel guides). Perseus also publishes academic books, including college textbooks from Westview Press.

In addition to publishing, Perseus acquired Client Distribution Services (renamed Perseus Distribution), Consortium (specializing in mostly independent literary and political presses) and most of the assets of Publishers Group West (PGW) in daring and innovative bankruptcy purchase, so that today it is by far the largest distributor of client publishers in the North American market.   With Steinberger as CEO and Joe Mangan as COO (and aided by strong financing from its parent company), Perseus has crafted what appears to be a very successful strategy for navigating changeful times, including an early and deep commitment to digital publishing, a diverse set of publishing imprints, a decentralized management system based around a set of core services shared by internal resources as well as clients, and a willingness to experiment with new ideas (including Vanguard’s no-advance, high royalty publishing program as well as a variety of interesting digital initiatives).

In my conversation with David Steinberger, I wanted to learn more about how he sees Perseus today, as well as a sense of his vision for the future, not only of Perseus itself, but the publishing industry as a whole.  I think listeners interested in the future of publishing and book distribution will find this discussion useful and interesting on a number of levels.