Weldon stresses 'autonomy' at PRH UK

Weldon stresses 'autonomy' at PRH UK

Penguin and Random House UK will continue to operate as distinct publishing businesses and from three different locations, new chief executive Tom Weldon has told The Bookseller.

Speaking at Random House's Vauxhall Bridge Road offices following the closure yesterday (1st July) of the merger between the two global businesses to create Penguin Random House, Weldon stressed that his first priority was to get to know the publishing units that make up the combined entity.

Weldon will split his time between VBR and Penguin's Strand headquarters (along with regular visits to Transworld's Ealing office), and work with his deputy chief executive Ian Hudson on understanding where the two businesses operate differently and how they overlap. He stressed, however, that autonomy would be a key part of his overall strategy.

"We will take this carefully, they are two incredibly successful businesses and it is really important that continues as usual," Weldon said. "My message to staff is: 'please continue as you are, because you are doing a brilliant job'."

Weldon added: "While there are clearly differences, we share more than divides us. There is a genuine belief that distinct diverse centres of publishing excellence are really important, and each centre should publish different kinds of books in different kinds of ways." Hudson said: “We are very similar, both very successful, but we may do things in slightly different ways. Understanding these nuances will be really important.”

The merger creates the largest ever global trade publisher with sales worth £2.6bn, and a market share of UK bookshop sales of more than 27%, but it has been widely interpreted as a response to the growing size of Amazon, with some estimates suggesting that the internet giant could account for as much as 40% of typical trade publisher's print and e-book business.

Gail Rebuck, who takes up a new role as chair of Penguin Random House UK, stressed that there was "no pressure to do anything quickly, or precipitously". She said: "This is a perfect opportunity in our market to take as much time as they need to do all the learning, then take the best decisions, and come up with new solutions when necessary. As well as being big, the new PRH will also be innovative."

Weldon highlighted Rebuck's approach to integrating Transworld when those two businesses merged in the 90s: "We are are in agreement that we stay in three separate locations. I admire Gail for keeping that spirit of Transworld alive: there are may affinities with the rest of Random, but that spirit is still intact and it must continue to be so. Random House has some amazing brands, and they will survive and thrive. There is no movement at this stage to make everything Penguin." Weldon stressed that the four divisional MDs at Random House (Richard Cable, Susan Sandon, Fiona McIntyre and Larry Finlay) and the four at Penguin UK (Francesca Dow, Joanna Prior, Stefan McGrath and Louise Moore) should continue to enjoy autonomy even within the bigger group. "They need to have as much space as possible and that principle of autonomy is really important: it is my role to support them."

Both Weldon and Rebuck emphasized that the two companies "shared an extraordinary commitment to writers", with the combined lists representing a "fantastic community of writers". Weldon said that where writers had some books with one publisher, and others with another, there would be an opportunity to "coordinate really effectively", however there wouldn't be a compulsion to combine lists. He said: "For authors much will remain the same, same contract, same publisher, same imprint, but hopefully the one thing that will change is that we'll be able to publish them even more dynamically."

Reflecting on a changing industry and the reasons behind the deal, Weldon said the merger would add "rocket fuel" to the changes that had already been put in place at both companies, including putting more spend behind authors, building its intellectual property portfolio, investing in audience acquisition and growing communities. "We are all aware of the challenges we face, and without being complacent it is important to remember that both Random House and and Penguin have had some of their most successful years recently. Both companies have changed a lot over the years and this merger extends that process of change."

On her non-executive role as chair of the new group, Rebuck said that it was the right moment to transfer power. "I think it is a perfect moment to change over, obviously I was going to have to change at some point, but this is a pefect moment. It is going to take many, many years to integrate these two companies, and at the end of that the companies have to be run by the people who have have integrated them."

The merger in the media.