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Books: Publishing Prince Turns Page

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Last week's news that Random House VP and senior editor Jonathan Karp was quitting the book business for movies had a number of publishers nonplussed. "I was surprised," says Sloan Harris, an agent at ICM. "He was at the top of your list of people happy in their jobs." "It was entirely feasible for him to become the publisher," confirms former boss Harry Evans. Some concluded that publishing has lost its cachet and can't hold promising talent. "This is major," says one editor. "People are getting out."

"The level of fabulousness in book publishing is just not high enough for Jon," offers another editor who has seen him at Michael's, the media watering hole, ogling the boldface faces. "His head was whipping around -- and these were B-list celebs!"

Others wonder if he hadn't outlived his hype. "This is a very meteorological business," a rival observes, "and the weather was turning bad there." Karp has had some very expensive near misses recently -- most notably A Conspiracy of Paper, for which he paid a reported $500,000 advance but which failed to get on the best-seller list. However, he won his vice-presidency with John McCain's durable best-seller and still has the business buzzing about his upcoming horse-racing drama, Seabiscuit, which has already been sold to the movies for a large sum.

The editor, who writes musicals in his spare time, is making the switch to work with Hollywood producer Scott Rudin, known as the producer who makes books into movies. "It's still about storytelling," says Karp. "I'll reach a larger audience." Another explanation for the move: Blame Canada. "I wanted to work with Rudin," says Karp. "I've seen all his movies as a paying customer. And as someone writing musicals, I can say that South Park is one of the best musicals written in the last ten years."


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