The Corner Office: He Did It
One year ago, New York-based Beaufort Books was a small, independent, relatively unknown publisher working to reinvent itself after years of inactivity. By summer, it was caught in the middle of the media firestorm that is O.J. Simpson—catapulted to national recognition and the top of the New York Times Best-Seller List. Its newfound notoriety came in the immediate wake of the announcement that Beaufort would be doing what HarperCollins—and, it was rumored, all of the other major publishing houses—would not. Beaufort would publish the book “If I Did It,” the ghostwritten account of how Simpson would have murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, who were both found dead in 1994.
The now-defunct HarperCollins imprint Regan Books, headed by editor and publisher Judith Regan, was scheduled to release the Simpson book in November 2006, but the publication was canceled amidst widespread public opposition to the book. Later, a federal bankruptcy judge awarded the rights to the book to Goldman’s family, who had won a $38 million wrongful death judgement against Simpson in civil court that was never satisfied.
Enter Eric Kampmann—president of Beaufort Books and CEO of Midpoint Trade Books, which provides sales, marketing and distribution services to independent publishers—who partnered with the Goldman family to bring the highly contested narrative to the marketplace. Kampmann had purchased Beaufort Books in 1984, but suspended full-time publishing operations soon after. In 2004, he set out to revive his dormant publishing company. Here, Kampmann details why he decided to publish “If I Did It”—which generated $2.5 million for Beaufort last year—and how a small, obscure publishing house managed to pull off a feat usually left to the big guys.
• Why did you resume publishing operations at Beaufort in 2004?
Eric Kampmann: In 2004-2005, I saw a very interesting thing developing here at Midpoint. … I saw a lot of “publishers” coming here, but they were not publishers—they were really authors. We didn’t have a vehicle for them to really become authors, and to do a deal with them that’s similar to a publishing deal rather than a distribution deal. … So that’s where I saw the hole, the opportunity. In 2005, I brought in a guy named David Nelson … and he and I together really started making the connections and trying to find people who were possible Beaufort authors. … David and I worked together from 2005 into 2006, and we were kind of feeling our way toward a [business] model that worked. Then, of course, lightning struck in the summer of 2007 [with the O.J. Simpson book].
• How did you come to publish “If I Did It”?
Kampmann: At [BookExpo America] last year, [David and I] had dinner with an agent named Sharlene Martin, and it had nothing to do with O.J. Simpson. … She was interested in the Beaufort model for [another project]. Nothing came of that, but during July, she told David Nelson that she was working on another project that could be even more interesting. It was in July or August that she became the agent for the Goldman family, who had acquired the rights to the HarperCollins book. …
I think that Sharlene—and I’m not sure [which other publishers] she showed the book to—was pretty sure that the larger publishers weren’t going to touch this with a 10-foot pole, given what had happened with HarperCollins. I had a different reaction [to the book]. … I wanted to find out how good Beaufort really was. I knew in my heart that we could do an amazing job on this book if the opportunity came to us.
But I still presumed, up until the contract was signed, that I wasn’t going to get it. I thought someone else would come in and swoop it away. There was no reason Beaufort would get it, because I wasn’t offering an advance. … The model that we used with the Goldman family was essentially a [traditional] publishing model without the advance. And the royalty was actually better than the 15 percent of retail that the big authors [normally] get. So the bottom line for me was, can Beaufort do it, [and] can Midpoint handle it on the sales-distribution side …? … We signed the agreement on Aug. 11, .
• What happened once the deal was announced? How did you deal with the strong reactions and media interest that surrounded it?
Kampmann: … Beaufort ended up being the perfect publisher for two reasons: It neither had a bad reputation [nor] a good reputation. So … the immediate negative reaction we took [after the deal was announced] didn’t stick, because there was nothing to hang it on. …
The next step was the “Today” show on Aug. 15, when I … went in and announced that I was the publisher of the book. … I was seated next to [Nicole Brown Simpson’s sister] Denise Brown, who came with 455 reasons why this was an outrage that somebody would be publishing the book. There are all kinds of reasons why what she was saying wasn’t accurate or genuine. For example, the Goldmans were awarded 90 percent of the proceeds of whatever was earned [from the book], and the Browns were only awarded 10 percent, because the Brown family had never perfected their claim. They weren’t happy with that. So to them, to a certain extent, it was all about the money.
… The publicist [for the book was] Michael Wright …. It was his strategy to keep the Goldmans off of television until [“The Oprah Winfrey Show”]. … So he sent out me and other surrogates to deal with the media and to keep [the interest] going, and also to get Denise Brown to say basically everything she would ever say and actually run out of things to say. Denise Brown, during this whole time, started a petition [to stop the publication of the book] and was on television everywhere, but everyone got tired of her. She was, like, whining. … She claimed she wasn’t going to go on “Oprah” and then at the last minute changed her mind. She did a separate interview; she didn’t have the guts to sit with the Goldmans [on Oprah]. She was a total flop on that show. … But the Goldmans were brilliant …. They were very authentic. That helped a lot.
The other thing that helped a lot in this interim period is that Barnes & Noble … made an announcement … that they weren’t going to buy the book [to sell in their retail stores]. … Well, what it did was make [the book] No. 1 on BN.com as well as Amazon.com, and that persisted until finally Barnes & Noble said, “Well, we’re actually going to participate, too.”
• What was the editorial/production process like for this book?
Kampmann:… We had a month to do it. We signed [the deal] on the 11th of August, and the books were shipped on the 12th of September, the day before “Oprah.” … We did it because this is a great little company, and the truth of the matter is, nobody dropped the ball. … To me, it showed what the potential of an independent publisher is …. We shipped 150,000 [copies] the first week, which was our [initial] printing, and we went back for one more printing of 50,000, [which] shipped in early October. And we got to No. 2 on the New York Times Best-Seller List.
• What did you learn from this experience from a publishing perspective?
Kampmann: It was the opposite of [learning from it]. I applied everything I knew to this particular book. … Here is an odd situation where a smaller publisher that most people had never heard of before was able to do exactly what the big publishers do. That’s because the people who work here, the older ones, almost all have come out of the big publishing companies and have gone through this innumerable times. I was previously head of sales for Simon & Schuster—yes, a long time ago, but I don’t think S&S has changed all that much.