NEW YORK - The economy has crashed down on a supposedly recession-proof industry - book publishing - with consolidation at Random House Inc., and layoffs at Simon & Schuster and Thomas Nelson Publishers.

At Random House, the country's largest general trade publisher, the man who helped give the world "The Da Vinci Code" is in talks for a new position, while the publisher of Danielle Steel and other brand-name authors is leaving.

Stephen Rubin, who released Dan Brown's blockbuster thriller in 2003, is negotiating for a different job after Random House eliminated his position as president and publisher of the Doubleday Publishing Group. Bantam Dell head Irwyn Applebaum, whose many authors have included Steel, Dean Koontz and Louis L'Amour, is departing, effective immediately.

Random House, under the leadership of CEO Markus Dohle, announced the changes yesterday as part of a "new publishing structure" that will "maximize our growth potential in these challenging economic times and beyond."

Spokeswoman Carol Schneider would not say whether Applebaum, 54, was leaving voluntarily. Between them, Applebaum and Rubin, 67, have more than 40 years of experience in publishing. She said that layoffs are possible as the company's many imprints and divisions are shifted and split up.

Simon & Schuster has been helped by President-elect Barack Obama's embrace of Doris Kearn Goodwin's "Team of Rivals," but not enough to save some 35 positions, about 2 percent of the staff.

On Tuesday, the head of Thomas Nelson Publishers, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company that releases religious books, announced that about 10 percent of the staff, "54 of our friends and co-workers," had lost their jobs.

An overhaul has been expected at Random House ever since Dohle was hired last spring by parent company Bertelsmann AG, a German-based conglomerate, and began a planned, months-long review of the publisher.

Last month, Random House said it would freeze pensions for current employees and eliminate them for new hires. *