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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Mixed week for women in publishing

HarperCollins and Random lose female heads

The same week that Gabrielle Coyne was put in charge of the Asia-Pacific arm of the new monster conglomerate, Penguin Random, there was bad news for women in UK publishing.
The day after the merger of Penguin and Random House was accompanied by the announcement that Gail Rebuck, chairman and chief executive of Random House UK since 1991, would step down from the day-to-day running of the UK arm of the business to take the strategic role of chairman, the news broke that Victoria Barnsley (pictured) was leaving HarperCollins UK after 13 years as chief executive.

Barnsley's resignation occurred on the eve of her annual summer authors' party at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens (a pleasure house bequeathed by an earlier beleaguered monarch, Queen Anne) which, as she noted on the night, "has become my leaving do". She cited the irony of HarperCollins winning a publisher of the year award under her leadership just a year ago (an award Rebuck's Random House took for 2012 two months ago).

Barnsley joked: "As my colleagues have told me my one great weakness is I'm not really good at managing up, and I think the last few days I have really realised that."

Though her speech was light on bitterness, it tellingly lacked the usual "you'll be in good hands" tribute to her replacement, Charlie Redmayne, from JK Rowling's website, Pottermore.

As Guardian commentators Claire Armitstead and John Dugdale point out, "For those alarmed about the masculinisation of the British book trade, there's no shortage of other examples to point to. A few days earlier, on 30 June, Kate Swann, WH Smith's widely admired boss, stepped down; and six months before that, on 1 January, Marjorie Scardino retired after 13 years running Pearson, the owner of Penguin (it now owns 47% of the merged group). Both, like Barnsley and Rebuck, were replaced by men."

More alarming still is how the focus of power is moving to Manhattan.  As the Guardian also comments, "Last month's splitting up of Rupert Murdoch's media empire included the reallocation of oversight of HarperCollins's operations in India and Australasia from Barnsley in the UK to the worldwide chief executive, Brian Murray, who is based in Manhattan.

"Over at Penguin Random House a similar reorientation has been happening. The new British chief executive will be Penguin's Tom Weldon, with Gail Rebuck as chairman, but the overall group chief executive, Markus Dohle, will be based at the merged firm's headquarters in New York."

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