Peter W. Olson, who has been chief executive of book publishing company Random House since 1998, is leaving his post in a few weeks, according to The New York Times. The news has stirred a debate amongst critics as to whether his departure is a result of declining job performance or changes in the publishing industry.
What the commentators said
It appears that “one of the most powerful figures in American book publishing” has “fallen victim to the same bottom-line calculus” that led him to fire several people in the past, said Mark Landler in The New York Times. Olson has “come under mounting pressure” because of “lower profits at Random House and steep losses in its American book clubs, which he also oversees.” Apparently, Bertelsmann—Random House’s parent company—“has lost patience with the performance of this American outpost and wants to install" its own person.
Olson shouldn’t be entirely blamed for poor book sales at Random House, said the blog Bookyards. The Internet is impacting “the book publishing industry as it has the music and video/movie industries”—there are fewer reasons to “buy a book when you can read it on the web for free.” But maybe Olson should have done more to adapt to these changing times once he started to realize that “the business models that” Random House has "been using for the past few decades” weren’t “producing the revenues and profits that they had expected.”
“I doubt that Internet bootlegging” affects Random House much, said David Rothman in the blog TeleRead. But one thing Olson could have done was tried to “grow library sales.” Getting e-books into libraries offers “the best of both worlds—free to patrons (reducing the piracy risk) but a revenue stream for creators.” If publishers and librarians spent “less time fighting over copyright-related matters and more time lobbying for new funding mechanisms,” everyone would be better off.