March 22, 2006

Random House sales undented by controversies

By Jeffrey Goldfarb

BERLIN (Reuters) - Recent controversy surrounding two
Random House bestsellers has not dented sales, but one of them
may change the way memoirs are issued, the publisher's chief
executive said on Wednesday.

Author James Frey was exposed by investigative journalists
to have invented portions of his memoir "A Million Little
Pieces," and Dan Brown is being accused in court of
plagiarizing portions of mega-seller "The Da Vinci Code."

"The Frey book has continued to sell strongly in the new
year," Random House Chief Executive Peter Olson told Reuters in
an interview, adding that "The Da Vinci Code" has too, even
after three years on global bestseller lists.

"It continues to sell well in the UK and the U.S., but I
wouldn't say we've seen any spike in sales," Olson said,
referring to fallout from the London court case.

"We expect when the paperback editions come out in North
America, there will be very strong demand."

Random House, a unit of German media conglomerate
Bertelsmann AG, plans to release "The Da Vinci Code" in
paperback in North America shortly and is shipping 5 million
copies of the religious-themed thriller.

It is one of the most successful novels of all time with
sales of more than 40 million copies but is alleged to have
used some of the same ideas as "The Holy Blood and the Holy
Grail," a 1982 work of historical conjecture also published by
Random House.

With the U.S. paperback and a film version starring Tom
Hanks due out this year, courtroom observers bandied theories
that perhaps the publisher orchestrated the controversy for

"We don't plan litigation to foster book sales," Olson
said, "but people do love conspiracy theories, there's no doubt
about that, whether it's in fiction or in the press."


Meanwhile, the Frey episode may prompt publishers to expect
future memoirs to include explanations about how they were
written, Olson said, but would not go so far as to usher in
broad new fact-checking mandates for publishers.

"I would not be surprised if in the future you see more
memoirs with a publisher's note or an author's note to clarify
the nature of the work," Olson said. "That's likely to happen.

"I think the process, which has always been a book-by-book
decision by acquiring editors and publishers and a trust
relationship with the author, is one that is going to continue
to evolve," he said.

Random House reported a 19 percent gain in operating profit
to a record 166 million euros ($200.4 million) on Wednesday on
2 percent revenue growth to 1.83 billion.

New books from Bill Bryson, Alexander McCall Smith,
Danielle Steel, Dean Koontz, Thomas Harris and John Grisham
have Olson anticipating growth for Random House even after it
bowed out of the bidding for Alan Greenspan's hotly anticipated

Penguin Group, a unit of Pearson Plc, bought the rights for
more than $8 million, publishing industry executives said. It
fell short of the reported $12 million Random House paid for
former U.S. President Bill Clinton's "My Life" but was still
one of the biggest advances ever.

Olson wouldn't comment on the price of either book but said
such memoirs can be tough to pull off.

"I think if we look back on the price we paid for the
Clinton book, which we have never disclosed, the foreign rights
sales and the successful marketing of it are an example of how
you can take a relatively risky exercise -- a one-time
political celebrity book -- and make it a success," he said.

"But there are so many factors in deciding the price and
distribution of a book like that, that it differs dramatically
from a lot of our day-to-day work," he added. "It's a tough