In New York: Open Road’s Acquisition Investors Include Steinberger, Entrekin

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Founded in 2009 by Jane Friedman, Open Road enters a third chapter under the ownership of an investment group, with David Steinberger coming in as CEO.

Digital readers in the New York City subway system, November 16. Open Road Integrated Media has changed in a decade from an acquirer and repository of high-profile backlisted literature in digital formats to a direct-to-consumer email marketing service for publisher-partners. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Peter Spiro

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Paul Slavin Leaves the CEO Role on January 1
The investment group headed by David Steinberger that has acquired the New York City-based Open Road Integrated Media is paying, according to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at the Wall Street Journal, “between US$60 million and $80 million,” figures credited by Trachtenberg to a person familiar with the sale.

The group buying Open Road includes:

  • The private equity firm Abry Partners, which has a media and entertainment focus
  • MEP Capital, also a media and entertainment-centered private equity fund and an Open Road publishing partner through its investment in Rosetta Books
  • Morgan Entrekin of Grove Atlantic, another Open Road publishing partner
  • A number of “prominent individual investors from the worlds of publishing and finance,” to quote Open Road spokespeople

“We’ve been working with Open Road for several years now,” says Grove’s Entrekin in a prepared statement, “and we’ve seen the impressive results they deliver  for our titles. We’re excited to be part of this venture.”

In our report on 2018 earnings, in fact, Entrekin was quoted in an endorsement of Open Road’s “Ignition” marketing program that has used targeted D2C emails to build readership for clients. “Our partnership with Open Road,” Entrekin was quoted saying, “has dramatically increased the sales of a wide range of our backlist titles.

Morgan Entrekin

“The increased revenue for both Grove and the authors is great—but even more exciting is that this initiative is helping introduce these worthy books to new readers.”

And the new buy sets into motion a departure for Open Road’s current leadership. Steinberger will serve initially as Open Road’s executive chairman, working with outgoing CEO Paul Slavin. Steinberger is to take the CEO role on January 1, with Slavin “continuing to work closely with the company in a consulting role going forward.”

David Steinberger

Steinberger was previously CEO of Arcadia Publishing and before that CEO of Perseus Books. As many Publishing Perspectives readers know, he’s also chair of the National Book Foundation, which produces the National Book Awards.

“Data science represents the next frontier in book publishing,” Steinberger is quoted saying in today’s messaging. “The title-by-title impact on sales is unlike anything I’ve encountered in my 25 years in the industry. I’m looking forward to working with Paul [Slavin] and his outstanding team to build on Open Road’s powerful momentum in the marketplace.”  

Slavin is formerly an ABC News senior producer and Disney-ABC senior vice-president in emerging businesses.

Paul Slavin

He’s quoted today saying, “I came to Open Road with the goal of building on Jane Friedman’s brilliant idea.

“We built a terrific team and a powerful tech/data-driven marketing machine that led to significant growth in revenue and  profitability. As David has recognized, it’s a platform without peer and the results to match.”

This will be the second major change in the chain of command for Open Road.

Jane Friedman

Founded in 2009 by Jane Friedman (the first female CEO of one of the big five, HarperCollins) with Jeffrey Sharp, the company was originally designed as treasure trove of backlisted work made available to consumers in digital formats. Friedman has said in a 2015 interview with her at The Bookseller, that she was encouraged by the success of Harper Perennial.

To acquire volume, Friedman’s Open Road venture acquired ebook rights to backlist titles by some of the most prominent English-language authors’ work and has grown to a repository of more than 10,000 titles.

In that October 2015 interview, Friedman said the company was “chasing profitability,” a typically charming phrase from Friedman.

Slavin had begun working with the company a month prior and became CEO in 2016 in his six hears has led the company’s transition from the repository of prominent backlist titles that Friedman built to the marketing program that dominates its development today. The company reports that it now markets more than 25,000 ebook titles to consumers on behalf of as many as 70 publisher-clients including Europa Editions and Yale University Press.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Open Road Integrated Media is here, and more on marketing is here. More on mergers and acquisitions is here

Porter Anderson is the former associate editor of The Bookseller’s ‘The FutureBook.’

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.