Robert Paris Riger, publisher and author, died on Jan. 26 in New York City of complications from the flu. He was 57.
Robert, who was known by family and close friends as Robbie, grew up in Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard. He attended Grace Church School, the prestigious United Nations International High School (UNIS), and graduated from Brown University, magna cum laude, with a degree in comparative literature in 1981. During college he spent his summers working at the Vineyard Gazette under editor Richard Reston. After college, he returned to Manhattan to take a job at Book-of-the-Month-Club, first as an assistant and later running its distribution center and eventually, its main clubs. While still in his 20s, he moved to The Doubleday Book Club to become its president.
In 1990, Robert co-founded Market Partners International, one of the first publishing consulting firms. Among the company’s early clients were Amazon, the printer RR Donnelley and Jim Henson Productions. While working for Henson, he co-authored (with Kermit the Frog) the book One Frog Can Make a Difference: Kermit’s Guide to Life in the 90s. In his time at MPI he consulted with companies in Scandinavia, Germany, Italy, France and Spain, (the last three in their native languages).
Deciding it was time to work for a traditional publisher, Robert went first to Penguin, before being wooed away by a dotcom era startup, SubRights.com. From there he went to Barnes & Noble to grow its study guide program, SparkNotes. After six years, he went back to another publisher, this time Simon & Schuster, where most recently, he was vice president and director of the Pimsleur Language Programs. He was completing, with co-author Mike Shatzkin, a book about the publishing industry entitled Book Publishing: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2019). As always, he was contemplating his next book.
In addition to his varied career in publishing, Robert was an advocate for gay rights throughout his life. In 1988, he co-founded The Publishing Triangle, an association of LGBTQ publishers that worked to create support and community for its members.
As for his other great passions in life, Robert thrived in the freedom of Vineyard summers. At an early age he developed a love for bird watching with his older brother. He once rescued a trapped sparrow hawk and raised it under the supervision of Rob Bierregaard and Gus BenDavid. Robert delighted in the timeless Vineyard tradition of crabbing at Cow Bay and occasionally shared his bounty throughout town. He was always at peace, launching a kayak from the Reading Room and blissfully paddling throughout the Edgartown Harbor.
In recent years, he developed a passion for genealogy, sparked by his beloved aunt Helen, former head librarian of the Frick Museum. He was active in the Mayflower Society (proudly wearing his small pink Mayflower pin), and charted his own family, and the families of many dear friends, back hundreds of years.
He also had a fondness for creating print on demand merchandise of all kinds out of his own photography and historical objects and patterns. One friend recalled receiving a canvas bag covered in photographs of historic buildings in her neighborhood. Another was given a cell phone case with a photo of treasured objects repeated in intricate patterns.
Robert is survived by his husband and partner of 37 years, Richard Duke Piper, his aunt Helen Sanger of Manhattan, his brother Christopher, sister Victoria Riger Phillips and niece Lonni Phillips of West Tisbury, sister BZ Riger of Arlington, Wash., and brother Max of Seattle, sister Ariel Aberg-Riger of Buffalo, N.Y., niece Charlotte Hull of California, and nephew Thomas Lloyd Phillips of Portland, Ore. He was predeceased by his father, the sports photographer Robert Riger, and his mother, the pioneering sports producer Eleanor Sanger.
A gallant, brave, optimistic ball of energy who loved deeply, lived fully and saw the world in a kaleidoscopic way, he will be deeply missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.
A memorial gathering will be held on Friday, March 2, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Rizzoli Bookstore in New York City. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.
A summer remembrance will take place in July on the Vineyard, notice to follow.