The creation of a single Penguin Random House UK Children's division under m.d. Francesca Dow will be a "genuinely complementary process" which will not reduce the commitment to editorial diversity, PRH UK c.e.o. Tom Weldon has told The Bookseller.
Weldon also said that the move was a response to the "unique" children's marketplace, stating: "At this stage we have no plans to merge the adult publishing divisions."
PRH UK announced earlier today that Penguin Children's and Random House Children's Publishers are to come together as a single division under Francesca Dow, formerly m.d. of Penguin Children's only. RHCP m.d. Philippa Dickinson will become consultant children's publisher and remain in that role until March 2015, when she will retire aged 60.
The development was greeted without surprise by the wider children's industry, but with mixed responses.
Agent Caroline Sheldon said: "Putting the two publishers together means Penguin Random House UK Children's accounts for a quarter of the children's book market which offers strengths in a deeply competitive and rapidly diversifying market. My one concern is that the diversity of authors' voices is not lost."
Sophie Hicks of Ed Victor commented: "Both Francesca and Philippa have been impressive m.d.s and I am sure Francesca will do a great job [in her new role].The bigger picture is that we now have one house where we had two. There used to be the big six and now there's the big five. Things are shifting from an agent's point of view and how it will work with key editors and key projects remains to be seen. It's a bit early to tell, but I'm interested in the nitty-gritty of how these two phenomenal houses will merge. Both have some really solid, very good, very experienced editors. Are people going to lose jobs?"
Hicks added: "I'd like to think both [sides in the merged division] will now complement each other. We have to think about brands, but more important in my opinion is story and authors. What Random House has done with unique voices and new voices I hope will be meshed with Penguin's [more brand-focused] approach."
Of the strategy behind the merger, Weldon said: "The children's marketplace is unique. What we're all trying to do is capture the attention of young readers who have an unlimited choice of entertainment and information. Combining the two companies mean we have the strength of editorial content and the resources to invest. The children's area will be a main priority for Penguin Random House and we want to bring in great new authors, new IP, ways to reach consumers. We need the scale to compete not just with book publishers but media and entertainment companies – Lego, Nintendo. For that new steps are needed, new infrastructure - I can't tell you at this point what that will be."
The bringing together of the two children's wings would be "a genuinely complementary process", he added, saying he "didn't understand" the perception that Penguin Children's was less author-focussed than RHCP. "They are two great successful businesses," Weldon said. "Both divisions are equally committed to authors and finding new writers."
The PRH UK c.e.o. said that the next stage would see Francesca Dow getting to know Random House Children's Publishing thoroughly, taking a "measured" look, and working on her vision and future strategy for the combined businesses. The timescale for that would be "months". Weldon refused to speculate on whether further changes to structure would then take place, saying: "We have to wait before we can make any call on this." He also confirmed that no decision had been made on bringing the children's businesses – spread between three sites, if one includes the PRH-part owned Andersen Press – into a single place. However Weldon did say: "It's the ideal scenario to come together as one team in a single location."
"I can clarify that Penguin and Random House imprints will continue to bid against each other," Weldon added.
Scout John McLay said the fact that the PRH children's imprints were still buying separately left him "relatively relaxed" about the development. "I feel relatively relaxed, and more, fascinated about how it will all change," he commented. "This is a period of innovation. We may lose a couple of opportunities, but they'll pop up somewhere else – David Fickling setting up [as an independent], Nosy Crow, Hot Key. For me as a scout there are just as many people to buy all the books, just a different group of people."
Retailers were positive. Sam Husain, Foyles c.e.o., said: "My initial reaction is that I am really pleased to hear Penguin Random House investing and developing further in that market. What will hopefully come from this is further development of their children's books… Penguin and Random House have been very supportive towards booksellers and we have very healthy relationships with them, so I would only expect that to continue. I would welcome even more titles coming from the combined publishing department. Obviously they will have to go through a rationalisation process but that will not diminish their strength and how good our relationship with them will be."
Katharine Fry, trade buying manager for Blackwell's, said: "We’ve seen major growth across the children’s market over the last year coming from both brand names and more literary titles; areas that both Penguin and Random House Children’s excel in. The combining of the different strengths of the two teams can only be a benefit, especially with the planned investment."
Melissa Cox, children's buying manager at Waterstones, said: "I think Francesca is a brilliant and innovative publisher and taking over a fantastic legacy from Philippa. Between the two houses they currently publish some of the best loved writers and illustrators for children and we will be eagerly looking forward to what the newly merged team will do next."
Meanwhile, from publishers, Nosy Crow m.d. Kate Wilson commented: "I really wish Francesca Dow well in managing this huge organisation. It’ll be interesting to see how her recent focus on building the Penguin brand - last Bologna she described Penguin as 'no longer a publisher but a multimedia entertainment brand' – translates to the larger group. From our own perspective, there’s a benefit to the increase in contrast between a huge organisation and an organisation like ours: we can focus on agility, innovation, individuality and close relationships and our specialist, distinctive voice."
Weldon reiterated that Philippa Dickinson would continue to be very involved in the Penguin Random House UK Children's business for the next 14 months, in her new role as consultant children's publisher. "She'll be 60 when she retires and it's something she's been thinking about for a while," he commented. "She's an extraordinary woman with a great many interests. and from 2015 she's looking forward to doing many things including flying around the world [Dickinson is a qualified pilot]."