Buyouts and Layoffs Mean Changing of the Guard at Penguin Random House

From a New York Times story by Elizabeth A. Harris headlined “Buyouts and Layoffs Mean Changing of the Guard at Penguin Random House”:

Several top editors at Penguin Random House, who worked with writers including Joan Didion, Alice Munro, Amor Towles, Elizabeth Gilbert and Joyce Carol Oates, are leaving the company as a series of buyouts and layoffs hit the biggest book publisher in the United States.

This shift marks a changing of the guard, especially at the storied imprint Knopf, as editors and other staff members with many decades of experience departed. It was also yet another shake-up at Penguin Random House, which lost both its global and its U.S. chief executives in just the past seven months.

At Knopf, those taking buyouts include Kathy Hourigan, who started at the publisher in 1963 and worked with Robert A. Caro for decades; Vicky Wilson, who edited Anne Rice and celebrated 50 years with the company last year; and Jonathan Segal, who edited seven books that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. At Viking, another Penguin Random House imprint, the editors Wendy Wolf, Paul Slovak and Rick Kot also took buyouts.

Those laid off included staff members in a variety of areas, including publicity, editorial and sales. About 60 people were affected by the layoffs, according to employees with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly. The company employs more than 5,000 people in North America.

Nihar Malaviya, the company’s chief executive, wrote in an email to staff members on Tuesday morning that the book market had faced significant cost increases “across the board,” a trend the company expected to continue, along with inflation.

“I’m sad to share the news that yesterday some of our colleagues across the company were informed that their roles will be eliminated,” Malaviya wrote. “We long sought to avoid these actions, but unfortunately could not do so.”

Daniel Halpern, the founder of Ecco Press who moved to Knopf two years ago, was among those let go. He brought several authors with him to Knopf, including Amy Tan, who said she repaid her advance to her previous publisher to join him there. She described Halpern as irreplaceable.

“The book that I am publishing in April,” she said, “that was entirely Dan’s idea. He coaxed me into doing it. That is his book. And if he’s not there for this book, from now until its release, that is a travesty.” She said that she and Halpern had started working on another book together and that she would publish it with him. “Even if we have to go to You Print Press,” she said, “we’ll do it.”

It has been a tumultuous period at Penguin Random House. In the fall, a judge blocked the company from buying a rival publisher, Simon & Schuster, on antitrust grounds, an endeavor that cost the company a $200 million termination fee owed to Simon & Schuster’s parent company, in addition to untold legal bills.

In December, Markus Dohle, who was widely seen as the force behind the failed acquisition, stepped down from his role as chief executive. Malaviya, who had been the chief operating officer, was promoted to chief executive, a move that elevated him above his boss, the U.S. chief executive Madeline McIntosh. McIntosh resigned the following month.

Buyouts at Penguin Random House were offered to employees aged 60 and older who had been with the company for at least 15 years.

But Penguin Random House has not been the only publisher to face challenges. After tremendous growth during the height of the pandemic, the publishing industry has faced slumping sales and rising costs.

HarperCollins announced this year it was offering buyouts as part of an effort to cut its North American work force by 5 percent. Hachette Book Group has offered buyouts as well.

Elizabeth A. Harris writes about books and publishing for The Times.

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