Frank Sambeth is leaving as chief executive of Germany’s largest trade publishing group Verlagsgruppe Random House to be replaced by publisher Thomas Rathnow. The announcement was made Thursday afternoon with immediate effect by Markus Dohle, the New York-based c.e.o. of Penguin Random House and member of Bertelsmann’s executive board.
While Dohle lavished praise on Sambeth who he said “has rendered outstanding services to Bertelsmann’s book business over the past decades”, the decision to oust him with immediate effect did not come as a huge surprise to many in the German book industry. The writing had been on the wall that something was amiss in Munich since sales and marketing director Annette Beetz left the business on 1st November on her own accord.
Verlagsgruppe Random House is a complex structure with 45 imprints, among them Goldmann, Blanvalet, Heyne and Penguin Verlag, which Thomas Rathnow successfully set up in 2016. It has up to now been run by a consortium of four publishers – Rathnow, Nicola Bartels (Blanvalet), Tilo Eckardt (Heyne) and Grusche Juncker (Goldmann) - plus Sambeth at the top. The group is not a part of Penguin Random House’s international structure, but directly associated with Bertelsmann.
There is already a lot of speculation what might have led to Sambeth’s undoing. That Dohle chose a pure-breed book publisher from inside the organisation over another outside manager with no trade experience has duly been noted. It is also an open secret that Bertelsmann had been unhappy with the financial performance of the Munich publisher for some time. Sales fell more than 10% from €325m in 2015 to €292.3m last year.
Dohle added: "With Thomas Rathnow, a publisher is moving to the top leadership position of the Random House publishing group. I firmly believe that the changes in the book industry can best be mastered when publishers focus clearly on their core competencies to connect the best authors and stories with more and more readers. Our content remains the engine of our business - both culturally and commercially. This is what Thomas Rathnow whom I particularly appreciate for his passion for the subject and his intellectual acuity, represents so outstandingly. He embodies the combination of creativity and entrepreneurial thinking that is more important than ever for our book publishers. Thomas Rathnow will successfully develop Verlagsgruppe Random House with his team, and shape the future of our company with a clear awareness of the cultural and socio - political significance of book publishing".