Jun 022005
 

The Wiley/Sybex deal closed yesterday.

I’m definitely feeling sad about this and I want to wish the best to any Sybex employees who have been let go. Good luck to all, and best wishes to Rodnay — he was such a force in this industry for a very long time. It’s my understanding that Wiley will keep the Sybex name in use as an imprint, and I hope they do so for a long time. The remaining Sybex employees will work out of the Jossey Bass building in San Francisco. Good luck to all that are staying as well, I hope you do well in your new roles.

There’s probably no way Sybex could stay in business as a large independent with such a reduced market share and hopefully this was the best result for all in terms of the overall number of jobs lost.

  4 Responses to “Rodnay Zaks has left the building”

  1. As someone who was once on the “acquired” end of a Wiley acquisition, I do want to say that I’ve really come to enjoy and appreciate working for Wiley.

    The first relief comes when you are suddenly part of a very financially stable company. I don’t know what Sybex’s finances looked like, but I know when HMI became part of Wiley, it was nice to not have to do things like offer 6-8 separate payments on advances to limit the outflow of cash, etc.

    I will admit that there were growing pains as I and my colleagues adapted to the “Wiley Way.” Now I don’t know how I got things done before the switch. It’s also nice to see all the old HMI personnel in major leadership roles in Wiley.

    I’m sure the Sybex staff will have a similar experience. I look forward to counting them among my colleagues.

  2. Never again will Rodnay Zaks haunt the halls of his own publishing company, frowning at employees for using more than their share of Post-It notes or presiding over a staff meeting in broken English.

    Yes, I was in the office of Sybex in 1992 when the far-seeing Zaks announced that the Internet was a termporary abberation and not worth publishing any books about. It really happened.

    His Christmas parties were a hoot, as he and his family members sought during the gift exchange portion of the party to trade with others and acquire the gifts they themselves had purchased!

    What a guy! And Rodnay’s habit of acquiring cheap liberal arts labor from Berkeley and other Bay Area schools will be studied for years to come by analysts interested in knowing how to exploit cheap labor. Rodnay knew he could get liberal arts graduates at a dime a dozen, so he paid them little and didn’t mind at all when after a year they inevitably moved on to greener pastures.

    Rodnay Zaks was lucky. He entered the computer book field at just the right time. Except for his employees, his managerial incompetence did not come to anyone’s attention till recently because the computer book market was so big.

    Au revoir, Rodnay!

  3. I can’t respond to Christmas party exchanges, ding Rodnay on his accent, or respond to internal mood at Sybex, but I can add a couple of comments.

    Maybe Rodnay was lucky, like many of us. He was certainly in the market before anyone else, and he weathered several storms before the most recent so I think we can give him some credit for that.

    Re acquiring “cheap liberal arts labor,” that’s nothing new in publishing. We’ve seen entire companies built where publishers could find cheap labor and office space.

    Re the “internet as aberration,” even companies like Microsoft had an ambivalent and unfocused response to the rise of the internet. One of the future’s most notable web publishers called me on the phone (remember those?) to turn down an internet book in 1991, saying there was probably only room for one book in the market. Lots of people were caught unawares, not just Sybex.

    Sybex flourished on the back of a few great books on dBase and WordPerfect, at a time when office apps really did require a book. But when some publishers were paying their authors work-for-hire for these kinds of titles, Sybex was paying royalties, and I have to give Rodnay kudos for that.

  4. Let’s leave it at this, Matt: You were on the outside looking in, as I presume Wiley was, because it bought Sybex.

    The revolving door of editorial talent that went through Sybex over the years was a sight to behold. We could debate whether paying editors, proofreaders, DP people, etc. cheaply is a common practice in publishing, but we can agree, I’m sure, that hanging on to talented and capable people is a good practice in any business. Labor is not a commodity like office space, although Sybex treated it as such. Employee morale at Sybex over the years always steered between horrible and abhorant.

    Sybex did not flourish on the back of a few great books, Alan Simpson notwithstanding. Sybex flourished because for many years Que, Osborne, and Sybex were the only computer publishers in the world.

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