NEW YORK — Anthony M. Schulte, a publishing executive who was an early proponent of audiobooks and among the first to tap the ready-made audience for books written by trusted television personalities like Alistair Cooke, Carl Sagan, and Walter Cronkite, died June 17 in a swimming accident in Maine. He was 82.
The authorities there said he drowned while taking his inaugural swim of the season at his vacation home on Cupsuptic Lake, in the town of Oquossoc.
Mr. Schulte, known as Tony to several generations of editors and executives in the New York publishing world, was the number two executive at Random House from the mid-1970s to the mid-’80s, when the company became the dominant force in US publishing.
With a patrician manner and kindly presence, he was for many colleagues the calm at the center of a storm in publishing as the industry began a furious period of acquisitions, mergers, and consolidation.
‘‘Tony was a rare fossil: a gentleman publisher,’’ said the editor Robert Gottlieb. ‘‘There weren’t many of those.’’
In the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Schulte and Gottlieb were among a group of wunderkinds who helped revitalize Simon & Schuster. Along with Nina Bourne, they were hired as a kind of triumvirate in 1968 to do the same for Alfred A. Knopf, a quasi-independent house that Random House owned since 1960.
Bennett Cerf, cofounder of Random House, described their hiring in a memoir. ‘‘To have gotten even one of them would have been a coup,’’ he wrote in ‘‘At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf,’’ published in 1977. ‘‘But to have all three was a miracle.’’ They were ‘‘a publishing business in themselves,’’ he added.
Gottlieb, who later became editor of The New Yorker, was the literary lion hunter of the team, and Bourne its advertising whiz. Mr. Schulte, with his Harvard MBA, literary sensibility, and ear for hot topics, had the broadest portfolio of the group.
In the early 1970s, he was tapped by Robert L. Bernstein, who succeeded Cerf as chief executive of Random House, to be the company’s second in command.
Mr. Schulte kept a hand in book development, even after his duties became mainly administrative and grew to include the corporate diplomacy involved in the S.I. Newhouse family’s purchase of Random House in 1980.
Also in the early 1970s, Mr. Schulte began recruiting authors familiar to television audiences. In 1973, he persuaded Cooke, an old friend and a longtime BBC correspondent, to do a book based on his 13-part television series for PBS the year before, ‘‘America.’’ It sold 2 million copies.
He fostered another bestseller when he sealed a deal with Sagan to adapt his 13-part 1980 PBS series, ‘‘Cosmos,’’ for a book. Cronkite, a longtime friend from vacations at Martha’s Vineyard, signed on to do a series of books after he retired in 1981 as the anchorman of the CBS Evening News. Some of those were big sellers, too.
‘‘He could see all sides of it at the same time: a book’s quality, and the chance to make a splash,’’ said Jane Friedman, a protege of Mr. Schulte’s at Knopf who later became chief executive of HarperCollins. While passing Friedman in the hall one day in 1984, Mr. Schultze asked her, ‘‘How about starting an audio division?’’
The idea had its origins in long family car rides to the country, said Mr. Schulte’s daughter, Lucy Danzinger, now the editor of Self magazine. ‘‘We would be in the car for hours going up to Martha’s Vineyard,’’ she said, ‘‘and my dad was always saying, ‘Why don’t they have cassettes with books on them? We have to have that.’ ’’
The audiobooks division at Random House, which Friedman began at Mr. Schulte’s suggestion in 1985, is now the largest in the market.
Anthony Martin Schulte was born in New York in 1930, one of two children of Arthur and Luise Schulte. His father was a partner at Lehman Brothers. His grandfather, David Schulte, was founder of a large real estate and retail concern, which included a chain of over 300 cigar stores in the Northeast, A. Schulte Cigars.
Anthony Schulte joined Simon & Schuster in the early 1950s after graduating from Yale and the Harvard Business School, and a stint in the Army. He left Random House in 1986 to join the investment banking firm of Veronis Suhler, specializing in publishing mergers and acquisitions.
Besides his daughter, he leaves his wife, Elizabeth; a son, Peter; four grandchildren; and a sister, Patricia Levinson. He was divorced from his first wife, Sarah Schulte, in 1973.