Obituary - Leonard Shatzkin, Book Publishing Guru and Author of In Cold Type

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Leonard Shatzkin, author of In Cold Type, former book publishing executive, and consultant, died from congestive heart failure on Saturday, May 11, at the age of 82. Shatzkin's life was one of many remarkable achievements, throughout which his original, innovative, and oftentimes controversial ideas spurred many to think about the business of book publishing in new and better ways.

"Dad was a brilliant guy with very broad interests: travel and languages, theater and the arts, history and philosophy," said Mike Shatzkin, Len Shatzkin's son, and founder and CEO of consulting firm The Idea Logical Company in New York City. "But absolutely nothing interested him as much as trade book publishing, and the aspect of publishing that totally absorbed him was the maddening problem of managing inventory in a bookstore."

During his lifetime, Shatzkin was a production manager, book publishing executive and consultant, founder of Shatzkin Systems, Inc., author, and inventor. Booksellers knew him through his participation at the 1995 and 1996 ABA Conventions, and his thoughts on bookstore inventory management spurred much debate within the bookselling community.

Shatzkin first worked as a production manager for House Beautiful magazine, a Hearst Publication. His first book-publishing job was production manager for the Viking Press, a job he took in 1946. While at Viking, he translated from Yiddish and edited The Stars Bear Witness, Bernard Goldstein's first-person account of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

From Viking, Shatzkin took the position of director of research at Doubleday where he "introduced innovations that became widespread practice, including disciplining book design into standard sizes for production efficiency and creating a large sales force to blanket the country," wrote Mike Shatzkin in an article appearing in Publisher's Weekly.

Shatzkin continued to work in the book business throughout the '60s and '70s: launching Crowell-Collier in 1961 and, in the '70s, running a book production service, Planned Production, which handled the book operations of the New York Times and Rolling Stone. Furthermore, in the early '70s, he founded and ran a book distribution, Two Continents, selling the company in 1979.

In 1982, Shatzkin's examination of the U.S. trade book publishing, In Cold Type (Houghton Mifflin), was published, and later, The Mathematics of Bookselling tackled the complex subject of managing inventory in a bookstore. Over the past 20 years, Shatzkin did consulting work with book industry professionals in Latin America, Africa, and the Soviet Union.

Only three years ago, Shatzkin invented an inventory management system for bookstores, and founded Shatzkin Systems, Inc., to develop and market it. His daughter Nance now runs the company, and the system is due to go live sometime next year.

"With literally the last ounces of his strength, he developed a methodology and a computer program called ORIS to make bookstore stocking decisions, now being beta-tested at Ed Morrow's Northshire Bookstore in Vermont," Mike Shatzkin told BTW. "It may well be his legacy and, if it turns out to be, nothing could possibly have made him happier."

Though Shatzkin accomplished much throughout his storied publishing career, one of his more incredible feats is not widely known. He worked on the Manhattan Project throughout World War II and received a patent for a process based on a printing technique, "gaseous diffusion membrane," used to purify uranium. This technique was crucial to the success and completion of the Manhattan Project.

Aside from his son, Mike, and daughter Nance, Shatzkin is survived by his wife, Eleanor; and Karen, an attorney; and three granddaughters. Contributions in his memory should go to Amnesty International or the American Civil Liberties Union. -- David Grogan