Shock and emotion from staff is the trade's dominant reaction to the news yesterday (2nd July) that Victoria Barnsley is to leave her role as chief executive of HarperCollins UK and International at the end of the week.
Within HarperCollins, staff paid warm tributes. Claire Reihill, editorial director at Fourth Estate, said: "Vicky has been a mother figure and a guiding spirit, with an especially close connection to Fourth Estate. I've been here for 10 years and it is hard for it to sink in. She always had a real open door policy—if you needed help or advice, she was always quick to do what she could. If you wanted her to read something, she would get it done overnight. And she always great fun to work with. I'll miss her very much."
Meanwhile Gordon Wise, literary agent at Curtis Brown, said: "Obviously it's a big shock—Vicky is a legend and has been synonymous with everything that HC UK represents. We hope we see terrific leadership from Charlie [Redmayne, Barnsley's successor at HC], and that authors can be reassured in both deeds and words that their work is in the best possible hands there."
Sam Husain, c.e.o. of Foyles, also said he was surprised by the news, saying "Victoria is an experienced publisher and cares deeply about the industry. We at Foyles enjoy a good working relationship at every level within HC." He added that while he didn't know Redmayne well enough to surmise the future direction of the company, "I expect a reasonable assumption is that there will be a greater emphasis on digital publishing."
Media reaction to Victoria Barnsley's departure from HarperCollins after 13 years focused on the shock of the announcement, and the shift of power in the industry from the UK to USA.
The Daily Telegraph said: "The departure of Victoria Barnsley as chief executive of HarperCollins UK after 13 years marks the second major westward shift in global publishing power in two days." Although it said the replacement of Barnsley by former Pottermore c.e.o. Charlie Redmayne was a move which "shocked staff and the wider industry", it said: "it is more notable that her successor, Charlie Redmayne, will have much-reduced responsibilities . . . It can be seen as yet another sign of how the phone-hacking scandal surrounding Mr Murdoch’s British newspapers has driven the withdrawal of News Corp to America."
It described the move, combined with the Penguin Random House merger, as "a double blow for British book publishing", but added that the New York Times has recently noted a "British Invasion" of American newspapers, magazines and TV by British executives, and said the example of Pottermore showed: "there is no reason ambitious British executives will not have a thing or two to teach New York book publishers, too".
The Evening Standard summed up the news: "The boss of Rupert Murdoch's British book publishing arm, HarperCollins, dramatically departed today as parent company News Corporation moved much of the UK responsibilities to its head office in New York."
The Independent headlined the news as "Another publishing star exits", and described a "tearful" Barnsley breaking the "bombshell news" to her staff.
It concluded: "Tonight's HarperCollins party in Kensington Gardens has changed from a celebration of summer to marking the end of a publishing era."