walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

More from _Two Bit Culture_: Shimkin buys Pocket books then IPOs

Marshall Field III (the man, not the store) died. His estate decided to sell Pocket books which until this point (1957) had been entirely privately held. Shimkin (remember: sent a stenographer to take down Carnegie's spiel; asked Lasser to write a tax prep guide) and James Jacobson, then vice president in charge of sales and Prudential Insurance came up with $5 million to buy it from the estate and then they took it public [ETA in 1960].

p 272

"Ronald Busch, then the assistant sales director at Bantam Books, recalled the reaction in the industry when Pocket Books made the financial disclosure required for a public stock sale. ... "they indicated in their prospectus that they had sold sixty million books in the prior year. And here we were at Bantam thinking we were doing pretty well and we hadn't even sold twenty million. We didn't even believe the figures. We thought they were gross and not net. But we found out that they were net ... We didn't realize at the time that Pocket Books represented such a lion's share of the business. There were no figures around to show what anybody was doing, so everybody assumed we were doing about the same. But they weren't. [Also] they had a lot of exclusive accounts where you didn't see any other paperback lines. For instance, Walgreen's" "

Think about this for a minute. Pocket Books is selling three or more books for ever book sold by the presumably next biggest competitor, itself a cartel with, presumably, board level access to the numbers at all the participating houses. These are people who, in theory, eat, drink, breathe, sleep and have sex with books. You would sort of think that that would notice when they were out and about that there were more of the little Kangaroos out there than there were roosters. 3X is a noticeable amount. 10% is not detectable. 3X should be detectable qualitatively. Informal sampling should spot it.

Moving right along.

Pocket Books had grown beyond paperbacks. "under Shimkin and Jacobson the company had expanded ... Jacobson set up a subsidiary called Affiliated Publishers, which distributed Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster books, Guild Press, Golden Key comics, and the incredibly successful Golden Books, formerly published by Simon & Schuster but jointly acquired by Pocket Books and Western Printing ... with unit sales far exceeding even those of Pocket Books' paperbacks. ... the leadership of Pocket books saw themselves as more than simply paperback publishers... taking the paperback in the direction of comprehensive publishing."

Well, duh. Field _had_ tried to do this with the purchase of Grosset & Dunlap after all. Just because he failed at the start didn't mean he was just going to go, oh, well, a cartel has stymied me I'll just give up. And we've already established that Shimkin takes smart to an entirely new level.

It isn't just that Bantam and its membership was feckless. It's that they were so consumed with the idea that they were doing well that it seems like it just never occurred to them to lie awake at night wondering if they could do better.

ETA: Also, when Busch says he thought the figures were gross and not net, I think he is still talking about units not dollars, altho I'm not 100% certain. I intend to get around to blogging the story about Oscar Dystel's arrival at Bantam.
Tags: not-a-book-review
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