July 3, 2013

Are there any female CEOs left in the Big Five?


Victoria Barnsley, former CEO of HarperCollins UK

In the wake of the merger and news of Victoria Barnsley’s departure as head of HarperCollins UK, The Bookseller posted a quote from an anonymous source who is worried about the masculinization of the industry, the franchising, and the shift of publishing power from the UK to the US:

“It’s been a disturbing week…. Three and a half years ago [Penguin m.d.] Helen Fraser was swept aside, making way for Tom Weldon. It feels to me like something terrible is happening; some of the best publishers of our time are extraordinary women, and none better than Gail Rebuck. It is now noticeable that something is going on which is about women and the masculinisation of our industry. Helen Fraser, Gail Rebuck, Vicky Barnsley—people who changed the face of UK publishing—are being moved aside or out.

It may be that publishers feeling embattled, on a back foot, is prompting this. Three and a half years ago we had four women leading publishing houses, and now we have one: Ursula Mackenzie at Little, Brown. I feel it is the same phenomenon we are seeing in broadcasting and the media in general—what’s happening with the disappearance of experienced, mature women at the top level?”

Barnsley has left HarperCollins UK after thirteen years, and will be replaced by Charlie Redmayne. Barnsley started Fourth Estate in 1984 and became CEO of HarperCollins in 2000. She was promoted to HarperCollins UK CEO and Publisher in 2008 (taking responsibility for Australia and New Zealand with that promotion). Her departure is unexpected, and Redmayne’s responsibilities are considerably reduced: he’ll be in charge of the UK, but none of the other territories.

That means there are only two women CEOs in the book publishing world: Carolyn Reidy, President and CEO of Simon & Schuster US, and Annette Thomas, CEO of Macmillan.

For those keeping score at home, Ian Chapman is MD and CEO of Simon & Schuster UK; John Sargent is the CEO of Macmillan in the US. CEO Markus Dohle is now at the helm of Penguin Random House; John Makinson has become Executive Chairman of the Board for Penguin Random House. The worldwide CEO of HarperCollins is Brian Murray; Charlie Redmayne is now head of HarperCollins UK. Arnaud Nourry is Chairman and CEO of Hachette Livre; Michael Pietch has succeeded David Young as CEO of Hachette Book Group in the States.

The fact that publishing CEOs are predominantly male isn’t news, and this list is only limited now to the Big … Five. PW surveys indicate 85% of publishing employees with less than three years of experience are women, but the numbers in the upper tier of the industry are modest (two people).

That’s not all the anonymous source is worried about. “Secondly, Charlie Redmayne and Tom Weldon are both men who came up largely through a passion for brand and franchise and not author and heritage, and that’s a worry.” The source suggests the company will move “further away from developing author and editor relationships,” and will not reach the editorial level of Rebuck’s diverse and author-friendly list.

Third, the “world’s first truly global publishing company,” Penguin Random House, could be an indication that more publishing muscle lies with the US than the UK:

“I feel secure that Ian Hudson is handling International at Penguin Random House—there are no safer hands than Ian’s. But Tom Weldon only has the UK, and Charlie Redmayne only has the UK. This is a further potential problem. Traditionally the UK has been interested in export and the US hasn’t. This may be a sea change. If you split away the export territories, there is a real danger that the UK will become an insignificant English language market in global terms and will be sidelined.

The Financial Times touched on the Americanisation of our industry [in its coverage of the PRH merger] and they’re not wrong. Penguin and HarperCollins will be run out of the US just as the big players Google and Apple are also run out of the US. There is a real danger that the UK is in the process of becoming just another territory.”

The Telegraph calls Barnsley’s departure “the second major westward shift in global publishing power in two days.” Britain has controlled Penguin for eighty years, but Penguin Random House will be run from New York.

Is Newscorps “withdrawing” to America in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, as The Telegraph suggests? In any case, it seems the winds are blowing west for now.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.