John Sargent is the CEO of Macmillan, the U.S. companies of the Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, a venerable enterprise based in Stuttgart, Germany. The American imprints include Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, Henry Holt, and St. Martin's Press, among others. Sargent is what in another age might be called a scion of a publishing family. His father ran Doubleday and Company in the 1960s and 1970s, its glory days.
What makes Sargent notable now is that he has taken a firm position on behalf of Macmillan with Amazon about who would control the price of e-books, and the Internet behemoth acknowledged that "ultimately" it would have to "capitulate." To the consumer, that a big publisher wants to charge more for its books may not immediately seem like a big breakthrough for the world of letters, but it almost certainly is that (about which, more in a moment).
Moreover, this is not the first time that Sargent has taken a leadership role on behalf of publishers grappling with the complexities and enormous potential of the digital age. As chairman of the Association of American Publishers, Sargent joined other publishers and the Authors Guild in a lawsuit to forestall Google's intention to digitize millions of books without regard to copyright. The suit was settled in 2008 and Google agreed to pay $125 million to establish a system for registering digital use and to pay royalties to authors and publishers going forward. Predictably, that agreement has its critics as well as its admirers. The concept of giving Google so much of a head start in the creation of a vast digital library still makes many in the book universe, including potential competitors and the Justice Department, unhappy. Another hearing on the Google accord is scheduled for February 18.