Christian Retailing

Merkh named Howard publisher, Dobson steps down Print Email
Written by Cameron Conant   
Monday, 06 April 2009 08:52 AM America/New_York
Publishing veteran takes over Simon & Schuster imprint, Focus founder to continue radio program

altChristian publishing veteran Jonathan Merkh has been named vice president and publisher of Howard Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Meanwhile, Focus on the Family founder and author James Dobson has stepped down as board chairman of the nonprofit organization that he founded 32 years ago, but he will continue to appear on its popular daily radio program as well as speak out on moral issues.

Merkh joined West Monroe, La.-based Howard Books last month after recently joining the William Morris Agency as an agent for the Hollywood talent agency’s Book Department. Merkh resigned last year as vice president of Guideposts Books. After 14 years, Merkh resigned from Thomas Nelson in November 2006 as senior vice president and publisher of Nelson Books.

Merkh was “well-known and highly regarded in both the CBA community and the wider world of publishing,” said Mark Gompertz, executive vice president of Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone Fireside division. “He is the right person to help us grow this area of our publishing, expanding upon the solid foundation built by John Howard and the rest of Howard Books staff.”

In his position, Merkh will be responsible for all the editorial and marketing functions of Howard Books and the senior management team. John Howard, who will continue to serve as vice president and publisher, will report to Merkh. Simon & Schuster officials said that both men would have the same title. New York City-based Simon & Schuster acquired Howard Publishing in February 2006 and changed its name to Howard Books.

Dobson’s wife, Shirley—who serves as National Day of Prayer chairman—also stepped down in February from the Focus board of directors. Focus officials said the Dobsons’ decision follows a transition plan begun six years ago, when James Dobson stepped down as president in order to lessen his administrative burden. Executive leadership was handed to Don Hodel in 2003, and then to Jim Daly in 2005.

Besides continuing to host the “Focus on the Family” radio broadcast, Dobson, 72, will also continue to write the organization’s newsletter, sent to 1.6 million people monthly. Dobson’s books include The New Strong-Willed Child and Bringing Up Boys (both Tyndale House Publishers).

Last fall, Focus eliminated more than 200 staff positions, its largest employee cutback ever, the Associated Press reported.