NEW YORK — In what it said was time for a "fresh approach," Simon & Schuster has hired Jonathan Karp, who published Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's "True Compass," to head its flagship trade imprint.
Simon & Schuster announced Thursday that Karp would replace David Rosenthal, who over the past 13 years worked with a wide range of authors, from Bob Woodward to Bob Dylan. Like Rosenthal, the 46-year-old Karp has a long record of acquiring best sellers, including Laura Hillebrand's "Seabiscuit" for Random House and Kennedy's "True Compass" for Twelve, the imprint he founded in 2005 at the Hachette Book Group.
Although Simon & Schuster publishes such brand-name historians as David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin, along with fiction writers Mary Higgins Clark and Sandra Brown, it has had – like much of the industry – a difficult time in the past couple of years, laying off employees in 2008 and in 2009. In the first quarter of 2010, sales fell 6.2 percent, to $151.7 million.
"Sometimes a change is just needed because the world has changed and a fresh approach might help reinvigorate an imprint," Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said Thursday. "David (Rosenthal) worked here for 13 years and he did some great publishing, but there are reasons decisions like this are made."
Rosenthal, 56, and once a colleague of Karp's at Random House, said Thursday that "in a moment when publishing has been in turmoil and business ain't as good as anybody expected, the thing you learn is that anything can happen."
"One does what one can, but it's not as much as fun anymore. For everyone in publishing, it hasn't been as much fun," he said, adding that he had no immediate plans to seek employment and would instead "read some books that aren't our own and read something for pleasure and not have to edit it or publish it. I haven't had a summer off in about 30 years, which is really pretty sick."
Reidy praised Karp for being "adept at making best sellers" with fiction and nonfiction books. Karp's new job begins June 14 and brings him closer to the large-scale responsibilities he had as an editor in chief at Random House, one he had left in 2005 out of a desire to have more autonomy and "stretch some muscles." He has long contended that publishers take on too many books and fail to dedicate enough time to each.
At Twelve, he released just 12 books a year, one every month. Besides "True Compass," he published Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great" and Christopher Buckley's "Losing Mum and Pup."
"I love it here. This is a dream job," Karp said Thursday. "But this was never supposed to be Jon Karp Books. I never said I was going to do it forever. I've done it for five years and I think I've proven my point. Now it's time to try a new challenge and it's one I've always dreamed of."
"For Jon Karp, it is like going to sleep running a classy bodega and waking up managing Bloomingdale's," said Robert Barnett, the Washington attorney who represents Woodward and negotiated the book deal for Kennedy, who died last year. "He will do very well, and S&S is lucky to have him."
Hachette executive Jamie Raab, who heads the Grand Central Publishing division, sent a companywide e-mail Thursday that expressed "regret" over Karp's leaving and promised to continue the Twelve imprint, under a publisher "to be announced."
At Twelve, Karp spoke often of being able not only to publish books, but closely edit them, an opportunity unlikely at Simon & Schuster. Karp said he was open to "finding news ways of publishing books" at Simon & Schuster, but added that "renowned" talent already was in place, including Alice Mayhew, whose authors include Woodward and Goodwin, and editor emeritus Michael Korda, who still works with McCullough.
"I'm going to take a cue from one of Simon & Schuster's most successful authors, Hillary Clinton, and I'm going to go on a listening tour for a very long time and listen to what people at S and S think and we'll figure out the next step together."
Karp will also be moving from one of the few publishers that has thrived recently, thanks in part to such authors as Stephenie Meyer and Malcolm Gladwell. But Karp said his decision was as simple as looking at his bookshelves.
"I saw all of the great authors who have been published by Simon and Schuster, from Joseph Heller and Doris Kearns Goodwin to Bob Woodward and Taylor Branch. I wanted to advance the national conversation through this legendary publishing company."
Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS Corp.