In a refreshingly frank new video from Samanthus Ettus’ interview show Obsessed, former head of Warner Books Larry Kirschbaum reveals his skepticism about signing then-unknown Stephenie Meyer to a three-book deal for “significant six figures.” “I called the editor and said basically, ‘Are you crazy? This is a first author, no platform, just a housewife, books about vampires. Do people really want to read that?'” It’s worth noting that in the end Kirschbaum signed off on the deal that led to the Twilight phenomenon — though he also says he advised another Warner author, Detroit-based sports columnist Mitch Albom, to “stick to sports” and watched as Albom went to rival Doubleday for the non-sports book that would become megahit Tuesdays With Morrie.
And that’s just in the opening minutes of this interview with Kirschbaum and recently ousted HarperCollins president-CEO Jane Friedman, who offer thoughtful insights on the current woes of the publishing industry. Both agree that too many books are published, extol the virtues of self-publishing, note the slowness of major publishers to adapt to digital formats, and speculate on the fate of “legacy publishers” which, Friedman says, will struggle to reinvent themselves “because there’s too much history and there’s too much overhead.” “You’ve got a model that’s self-imploding,” she says. “If you look at the biggest best-sellers, the publisher is using the money that comes in to turn on the lights. But the publisher isn’t making any money on those books.” (It’s also fun to watch Friedman tap dance around questions about her frigid relationship with Judith Regan, the former head of Harper-based ReganBooks.)