On Monday Publishers Weekly reported that Bertelsmann would overhaul its Book Club business, restructuring a number of specialty book clubs and eliminating 280 jobs. It also announced that it would close Madison Park Press, its 18-month-old original publishing arm, to focus on its book club business.
The impact of these decisions on the science fiction community was immediate. While there have been no official announcements, it appears that both long-serving Science Fiction Book Club Editor-in-Chief Ellen Asher and Senior Editor Andrew Wheeler have lost their positions with the company. Given that they were the only editors working for the fifty-four-year-old SFBC, it seems likely that Bertelsmann will ultimately combine the SFBC with its main Doubleday Book Club.
Bertelsmann’s decision to close Madison Park Press will also impact on the SF community. Although the SFBC has primarily reprinted existing trade books, it has a long history of publishing exclusive omnibus volumes, and has recently published a number of original anthologies edited by the likes of Marvin Kaye, Mike Resnick, Gardner Dozois, and Jack Dann, one of which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology last year. Although Bertelsmann’s announcement makes it clear that it will honor existing commitments (and my own queries have confirmed this), it seems certain that the books currently under contract will be the final original books to be published by the SFBC for the forseeable future.
It’s too early to say what the long-term impact of these decisions on the science fiction field will be. Certainly, losing highly respected and knowledgeable editors like Asher and Wheeler has got to be a bad thing for the industry, and any contraction of the SFBC, which has a history of providing access to economical editions of new science fiction and fantasy direct to readers that stretches back to 1953, would be enormously disappointing.
On a more personal note, I have been working with Andrew Wheeler at the SFBC since 2003, when we worked on the first volume of the ‘Best Short Novels’ series. During the past four years we’ve assembled four books (BSN: 2004; 2005; 2006; and 2007) that I’m incredibly proud of, and were in the midst of preparing another one (an original anthology called Godlike Machines). Andy, Ellen, Mike McCormack, and the various other people that I dealt with in design, accounting and so on were all highly professional and a pleasure to deal with. I can only hope that things will work out well for all of them. I’d certainly be happy to work with any of them again, and hope that I get the chance to do so.