When it comes to the Wall Street Journal, I’ve learned not to ask the obligatory “what took so long?” question because they seem to go through about triple the research and vetting standards that most of the major newspapers do in order to file stories. And by delaying on the AMS bankruptcy debacle, they give the story – and the perilous situation for Publishers Group West publishers – new life. Most of Jeff Trachtenberg‘s piece focuses on Perseus‘s plan to pay PGW’s publisher clients 70 cents on the dollar for their claims in exchange for dropping their claims against AMS and sign an extended book-distribution agreement with Perseus. Not only has Avalon, which announced its move to Perseus earlier this month, signed on, but so now has Grove/Atlantic.
“It’s a natural extension of what we’ve been doing the last few years,” said David Steinberger, Perseus’s chief executive. Steinberger said it will cost an estimated $20 million to pay PGW clients for their claims. That money could be paid out in a matter of weeks, if the court approves the deal. But Soft Skull‘s Richard Nash is one publisher who is worried about his prospects for survival in the wake of bankruptcy. That’s because Soft Skull is owed $110,000 by PGW and anticipates big bills as booksellers send back unsold copies from the holiday season. Soft Skull is debited for the wholesale price of each returned book and so far, those returns total $20,000 this month. Nash is also $250,000 in debt, including $40,000 from family members that he considers a personal loan.
If Perseus is successful, it will have an estimated 250 independent book-publishing distribution clients. And that’s where it becomes tricky. Because if every one of PGW’s clients signs on with Perseus, it gives the distribution company a tremendous amount of power. Aside from their in-house imprints, they are also responsible for distributing books under the CDS and Consortium arms, totaling approximately 120 separate publishers. Add in PGW’s approximately 150 publishers and suddenly, the vast majority of independent publishers owe their abilities to get their books into bookstores to a single company. And if the AMS mess has proved one thing, it’s that the perceived autonomy PGW had ended up amounting to very little. Which is why, as Radio Free PGW points out, it’s a good idea to look at those prospective contracts very, very closely.