The inside scoop on the book world -- Random House and Princess Di made the news the week of April 3, 1998

By Matthew Flamm
Updated April 03, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Random Acquisition

It’s impossible to keep a secret in the gossipy New York publishing community. Or so everyone thought until last week, when the news that Germany’s planned to buy Random House flabbergasted everyone in the biz. ”I guess if you don’t have investment bankers involved, you can do that,” says Jack Romanos, president of the Simon & Schuster Consumer Group, referring to the private way Random House owner S.I. Newhouse negotiated the estimated $1.4 billion sale.

Once authors and agents got wind of the deal — which will put imprints such as Knopf and Ballantine under one company roof with Bantam Doubleday Dell — they began to worry. Past mergers have led to high-profile defections: Patricia Cornwell left Scribner after it became part of S&S, and Stephen King cut ties with Viking after it joined Putnam. It remains to be seen whether the shake-up will cause any bruised egos at Random House, whose authors Anne Rice, Michael Crichton, and John Updike will have to share corporate attention with BDD’s Danielle Steel, John Grisham, and Dean Koontz. S&S’ Romanos foresees benefits for himself: ”There will be people and authors who will come free who we might want to be in business with.”

Koontz, for one, is unfazed: ”It’s infinitely better than when publishers are bought by [companies] who know nothing about books and care less.” But literary agents are less optimistic. ”It’s certainly going to reduce competition, and that can’t be good for authors,” says Lynn Nesbit. As Sally Richardson of St. Martin’s puts it, the balance of power may shift toward publishers: ”Agents are sad because there are fewer players, but that makes the fewer players more valuable to the agents.”

Diana the Hunted

Despite the tepid reception for some recent Diana books — such as Death of a Princess — a source says HarperCollins has shelled out a low-six-figure advance for Mary Robertson’s The Diana I Knew: Loving Memories of the Friendship Between an American Mother and Her Son’s Nanny Who Became the Princess of Wales (how’s that again?). Harper vice president Diane Reverand calls it ”a nosegay of a book, the sweetest sort of memoir.”