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If there's any truth to the populist saying that freedom of the press extends only to those who can afford a press, then Random House is very free indeed. Since being founded in 1925 by publishing legends Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer, Random House has guaranteed its imprints a high degree of editorial independence. In 1933, the company successfully defended James Joyce's Ulysses against obscenity charges, a significant victory for free speech rights in the U.S. The world's largest publisher of English-language books, this behemoth includes over 25 imprints and publishes everything from highbrow fiction to dictionaries to movie tie-ins. Prominent imprints include highly prestigious Knopf and Pantheon and mass-market Random House and Ballantine. In 1965, RCA bought Random House, but in 1980 sold it to S. I. Newhouse's Advance Publications, the nation's largest privately-held newspaper conglomerate. Under Newhouse's direction, Random House bought several more publishing houses, including Fawcett, Villard, and Times Books.
In 1988, Random House bought Crown Books, a company whose imprints included Crown, Clarkson Potter, Harmony, and the Outlet Book Company. The publisher's current line-up of authors include Nobel Prize winners such as Toni Morrison, best sellers like Anne Rice, and celebrity authors including Colin Powell and Johnnie Cochran. In November 1997, former publisher and president Harold Evans resigned amid rumors of a power struggle with his successor, the new president and editor-in-chief, Ann Godoff. Reportedly, company CEO Alberto Vitale had attempted to move Evans, who was known as a tireless promoter associated with celebrity books, to a new position. Godoff is expected to focus the company on literary works by lesser-known authors, rather than the celebrity book business, which often requires seven-figure advances. In July 1998, German media giant Bertelsmann, the owner of book publisher Bantam Doubleday Dell and record labels RCA Victor and Arista, acquired Random House from its parent company, Advance Publications, for $1.3 billion. Peter Olsen succeeded Alberto Vitale as CEO of Random House, which absorbed Bertelsmann's Bantam-Doubleday-Dell (BDD) publishing group. The deal makes Bertelsmann the world's largest English-language trade publisher, with combined sales of $1.8 billion.
Random House is now seeking to utilize new technologies to move up from the No. 3 spot in the media and publishing world (behind Time Warner and Disney). A deal with Audible in 2000 created Random House Audible, which distributes digital audio books online. The digital books cost 20 percent less than cassettes, and are downloadable to hand-held devices. Sample chapters of new books are available online before each book's print release. The acquisition of Listening Library Inc. brought the audio version of J.K. Rowling's immensely popular "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" to the Random House collection. Similarly, an agreement with Disney made Random House the publisher of activity and story books revolving around characters out of Toy Story 2 and The Lion King, as well as Disney staples like Mickey and Minnie Mouse. For adults, Random House has a new memoir from Ronald and Nancy Regan in the works, and a new series based on the "Blair Witch" legend popularized by the 1999 movie.
Like many other New York publishing companies, Random House tends to hire applicants with a certain education and cultural background: Ivy League and well bred. But take heart: Random House often hires non-Ivy League graduates if they have experience in smaller or academic publishing houses. Random House also relies extensively on its recruiting Web site for its entry-level editorial staff. For current job openings, consult Random House's employment Web page, located at www.randomhouse.com/backyard/humanresources/internet. Resumes can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxed to (212) 572-2502. Once in the door, say insiders, "you should never get bored. Rather than moving from company to company, you can move from department to department."
Employees say Random House is a "contacts-oriented" workplace in which Ivy League connections are "crucial" to the success of many. The level of insularity, however, varies by imprint since each "strives to cultivate a distinct culture," with highly prestigious imprints such as Knopf tending to be more "snobbish and style-conscious." Random House employees in the business and publicity sides of the company suggest that their departments are "less cliquish" and offer "greater prospects for advancement." Even though editorial staff benefit from the exposure that "the best-known name in publishing" affords them, they complain of a promotion process that has "glacier-like quickness" and which often requires "heavy and stultifying networking." The company reports that it has a well-structured promotional process that varies among imprints.
Say Random House insiders: "An ambitious editorial assistant will often work 50-55 hours a week, which includes reading manuscripts at night." "Things are always needing to be done in a hurry - time is of the essence - so you need to know how to prioritize," says one employee. However, don't expect to be well-compensated for your toil. "There are many new assistants," an insider says, "that have not been able to survive in NYC on what Random House was paying them." Says another young employee: "My entry-level position entails doing a lot of everything - which is good, especially because I get a broad look at the publishing process. Unfortunately, my position pays little - mid-20s to be honest - so I actually work two jobs." This problem is found throughout the publishing industry and, for its part, Random House claims to have the highest starting salaries in the business. Benefits are described as "good, but like so many organizations in this day and age, they used to be better."
Efforts have been made to revamp the benefits package, which now includes a cafeteria type plan with a flexible spending account. On the upside, "dress code is pretty flexible." One insider describes attending many meetings and seeing "people in suits and ties at conference tables with people in jeans and T-shirts." Also, "there is a remarkable climate of tolerance not found in many corporate cultures. I work with many people of color and diverse ethnic backgrounds." Says one contented insider: "If you love books, RH is the place to be."
HarperCollins;Houghton Mifflin;McGraw-Hill;Penguin Putnam;Simon & Schuster;Warner Books
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