Five Things: August 17, 2023


KKR Wins S&S for $1.62 Billion | Jim Milliot & Andrew Albanese

“During the trial, most agents, authors, and booksellers favored a deal which would keep S&S a major player in the trade market, so that it could continue to offer another option for agents to pitch books. Meanwhile, booksellers were wary of PRH having too much clout in the marketplace in setting terms for not only a combined PRH/S&S list but all of the combined company’s distribution business. Even inside S&S, a private equity owner didn’t seem like such a bad idea when it was revealed during the PRH trial that the publisher hoped to save $81 million in costs by integrating such functions as distribution, warehousing, and certain administrative and managerial functions.”

Last year, when the Department of Justice was making its awkwardly framed but ultimately successful case to prevent Penguin Random House from acquiring its Big 5 competitor, Simon & Schuster, I reflexively noted that a private equity buyer would be a worst-case scenario for S&S. Not because I thought PRH was better (I didn’t and still don’t), but because of PE’s deservedly terrible reputation in general, and mostly because of several personal experiences with PE ownership throughout my career.

Fast-forward a year later and KKR — one of the biggest PE firms around — is about to add S&S to its vast and diverse portfolio, and I’d now argue it’s the BEST-CASE scenario for S&S employees and authors, as well as the broader publishing industry itself.

Not all PE firms are created equal and, with just one exception, the ones I’ve dealt with were all relative amateurs compared to KKR. All indications suggest they’ve taken a surprisingly light touch with OverDrive since they acquired it at the beginning of the pandemic; their chairman of media is a former publishing bigwig seemingly still respected within the industry; and S&S itself has put together a solid few years of growth, crossing $1B in revenue last year. Coupled with KKR’s recent sale of RBMedia for twice what they acquired it just five years ago, it means this wasn’t the typical PE debt-laden fire sale that will be paid for with drastic “right-sizing” or consolidations.

PRH had a significant layoff plan ready to go, and a currently struggling HarperCollins surely would have, too. Consolidation invites cost-savings, which always includes layoffs, and every Big 5 publisher is a profit-driven conglomerate, so I’ve found hot takes that any of them would be a better home for S&S than KKR, simply because they’re also publishers, to be completely laughable.

I would guess KKR will go on a safe acquisition spree of smaller publishers over the next year or two to shore up gaps in their backlist, international reach, and distribution operations while avoiding any DOJ scrutiny. (Something similar to PRH’s significant “minority [at the time] stake’ in Sourcebooks is a possibility, too, as is simply diving deeper into the cesspool of right wing publishing they’re frequently in the middle of.) As long as things stay profitable, of course. They will absolutely start dismantling S&S if profits become notably challenged for a few consecutive quarters — which could be as soon as next year the way overall sales are trending back to pre-pandemic levels.

The real tragedy here is that Paramount couldn’t imagine a world where a profitable $1B publisher (and distributor) of mostly original IP fit into their overall media portfolio, and instead chose to sell it to pay off debt. Capitalism is stupid.


The plot thickens: The battle over books comes at a cost | Tovia Smith

“Amid all the skirmishes over individual book titles and challenge policies, it’s easy to miss the toll it’s taking on librarians, kids, and the country. Jones’s case may be more extreme than most, but countless other librarians around the nation who are also feeling the heat are also quitting in droves, leaving libraries short-staffed. It’s all driving up the human, civic, and financial costs embroiled in the battle over books.”

I’ve written before about how tiring it is to work in and/or for libraries these days, and Smith does an excellent job of zeroing in on both the human and financial toll these political battles are taking, all across the country. It’s a good long read to which I have nothing useful to add, other than to sympathize with anyone else who finds themselves wondering every day if it’s not worth the fight anymore.


This World Cup’s Anti-USWNT Outrage Isn’t Just Hateful, It’s Irrational | Meg Linehan

“While the attacks are crude and meritless, they have at least proven that the platforms of the USWNT as a whole, and those of players like Rapinoe, are significant and far-reaching. They have power, enough to be considered both a target and a threat. That’s still a deeply uncomfortable if not outright dangerous position to be in — there is a real, human cost to this vitriol we are forgetting as we debate whether to engage or not.”

NOTE: Here’s a link via Portside for those, like me, who don’t subscribe to The Athletic and/or refuse to give the NY Times any money or clicks.

I feel like Sweden being ranked 3rd in the world entering this World Cup didn’t get nearly enough attention while pundits were gleefully ripping the US Women’s team to shreds over their underwhelming performances that culminated in being eliminated on penalties vs. the Swedes. Expectations were ridiculously high with the potential for a historic threepeat at stake, ignoring the fact that more than half of this year’s team had never played in a World Cup — nor any other major tournament — and several key players were missing due to injuries.

Instead of focusing on inexperience, including their now-departing head coach, some pundits chose dog whistles about team “culture” that would fit right in on any FOX “News” program. Linehan nails it.


Spain players caught in the middle of World Cup glory and controversy | Claire Watkins

“USWNT forward Christen Press said while co-hosting the RE-CAP show that she hopes a win would give players leverage to argue their case more fervently with RFEF. Others fear that the success will give Vilda a cover to continue on as manager, despite the stress his presence places on those same players. The concern is justified, as federation president Luis Rubiales reportedly said of ‘Las 15’ after Spain’s semifinal win, ‘We have forgotten those who have resentment and who do not add up, who are few.'”

I mentioned previously that the USWNT’s fight for equal pay (among other things) in 2019 is what 2023 is like for many other countries, and Spain is one of the more dramatic examples. And now the World Cup has come down to Spain vs. England, and what should perhaps be an easy choice for many neutrals is complicated by matters off the pitch.

Not only is Spain one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited, and I prefer La Liga and Segunda over the Premier League, I also know what it’s like to try to succeed when your boss (and his bosses) are an obstacle your team has to overcome to succeed. Simply making the Final is a moral victory for the Spanish women, but I’m rooting for them to win the whole damn thing so they have a platform like the US women enjoyed for several years to help continue pushing for reform in women’s sports. I also just cannot deal with the British smugness we’ll all be subjected to for the next few years if they win.


This Star Trek Entry Deserves More Credit for Saving the Franchise | Joshua M. Patton

“Arguably, those fans judged the series too harshly. Discovery was stepped with Star Trek lore, from the return of the Mirror Universe to the introduction of Captain Pike, Spock and the Enterprise in Season 2. From Short Treks to Strange New Worlds, the adventures of Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery crew brought Star Trek back with stunning visuals and the moral and political dilemmas the franchise is known for — it just stretched out over a season. Without the high-quality work of the writers, directors and performers on Discovery, Paramount might have given up altogether.”

I saw Star Wars seven (7) times in theaters when it first came out and it was an important franchise throughout my life, in various media, until CGI Skywalker and The Book of Boba Fett finally killed it for me. (Except for Andor, I’m done, and who knows when we’ll see its conclusion?) Meanwhile, Star Trek lived on the periphery as the occasional fun movie (mainly The Wrath of Khan, Galaxy Quest, and Abrams’ alternate lens-flared timeline), and I never had any interest in its various TV incarnations.

Bored with all things Star Wars and looking to justify my Paramount+ subscription as more than just soccer, I decided to give Trek a try and started with Discovery, which had three seasons at the time and some intriguing buzz. I was immediately hooked by the simultaneously semi-serious and goofy af science, and finally appreciated what made Roddenberry’s vision so compelling. I was also undeterred by long-time fans’ complaints because I was coming to it fresh with few preconceptions and very limited knowledge of canon. I did howl when bearded Spock first showed up, though, and respected the meta joke Burnham makes about it!

Discovery led to Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds, and somewhere along the way I realized I had crossed a line and was becoming a Trekkie. We just finished SNW‘s latest season — old school episodic fun with a season-ending cliffhanger?!?! — and now we’re about to jump into Deep Space Nine for the first time.

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2 thoughts on “Five Things: August 17, 2023

  1. Capitalism is extremely stupid. If S&S is profitable, not only why is it bad for Paramount to hold on to it, but why can’t it just exist on its own as a company?
    I was always more of a Star Wars fan growing up but also enjoyed Star Trek. When I was in college, everyone in the dorm would gather in the common room to watch new TNG episodes together. With the Original Series, there are episodes that are outstanding sci-fi but overall, does not appeal to me (enjoyed the movies slightly more, but as the cliche goes, only the even-numbered ones). I was bored by early DS9 but enjoyed it more in the later seasons (if you are also bored as you start watching, just wait until Sisko shaves his head and gets his goatee, and then the show is good – in my house, we call that “When they got rid of the original actor and hired Hawk from Spenser For Hire”). Voyager had a good theme song; otherwise, very meh. Enterprise: the less said, the better. The TNG movies seemed to be following the Only the Even-Numbered Movies Are Good cliche, but then the last one was a complete train wreck. The Abrams ones are okay for what they are, but the more I see of his work, the less impressed I am. I enjoyed parts of Discovery but overall, I could take it or leave it, but we’ve only watched the first two seasons, maybe three? We stopped whenever the cliffhanger was them time traveling to the far future? For whatever reason, Michael never clicked with me as a character, but I like lots of the supporting characters (Michelle Yeoh can do no bad). I have not seen Strange New Worlds, other than the backdoor pilot episodes of Discovery. Picard was not as good as I had hoped but have only seen the first season; this wasn’t the biggest strike against it, but I rolled my eyes when they had the characters saying “fuck” just to show how Serious and Mature they are (what it means is that I feel like I have to wait until my kids are older to let them watch it). Star Trek should be All Ages content. From what I’ve heard, the final season of Picard is basically a TNG reunion, so I do want to see that. I have zero interest in the animated stuff. Paramount+ doesn’t have enough on it for us to keep it around all the time; we just get it every so often, watch all the new Star Trek, and then cancel.
    For modern Star Wars, my family still enjoys The Mandalorian (mostly still under the magic cuteness spell of Baby Yoda). Book of Boba Fett was not good. My wife did not like Andor so we stopped watching it; I thought it was okay and will probably come back to it at some point. Like with Star Trek, the animated stuff holds no interest. We will try Ahsoka (I’m not googling to see if I spelled that right) but haven’t had the opportunity yet. I did not care for the Obi-Wan series, but we did watch the whole thing. As a good Gen Xer, I heart-eyes-emoji the original trilogy and hate the prequels. I liked Force Awakens when it came out but none of the others (and the later ones retroactively make me like Force Awakens less because you know there won’t be any pay-off). Rogue One was okay (not sure why it gets the intense love that it does). Solo had promise but 1) Han was miscast, and 2) the sigh-inducing indulgence in fan service to explain EVERYTHING about Han Solo (worst one – Imperial Officer: “I need a first name AND a last name from you, for some reason, even though lots of Star Wars characters have single names, but you say your name is only ‘Han’. Hmmm, since you’re by yourself, I’ll give you the last name ‘Solo’!”).
    Anyway, this comment was a lot longer than I intended. Capitalism sucks, peace out.

    1. Baby Yoda’s magic wore off for me in S3, but he’s still a fave. I just hope they leave his fate to mystery and don’t force more stories. Let them retire in peace! Of course, capitalism will demand his return! ????????

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