Along with E.L. James: PW's Publishing Person of the Year, we honor these notable people who changed the publishing world in 2012.
Markus Dohle, Chairman, CEO, Random House
Since being named CEO of Random House on June 1, 2008, Markus Dohle has brought a lot of change to the country’s largest trade publisher, actions that helped it to weather both a deep recession and a wrenching digital publishing transition. His actions have included streamlining the company’s extensive operations, remaking much of RH’s top management by bringing in (or bringing back) new leadership, and continuing to upgrade the publisher’s infrastructure through investments in new technology.
From his first day on the job, Dohle’s objective has been to create a collaborative, inclusive, team-oriented culture that would become closer to both its authors and its customers. By most measures Dohle’s transformation has succeeded. The publisher continues to lead the country in the number of bestsellers published annually while taking top literary prizes. And in a period when the very viability of traditional publishers has been called into question, Dohle has made Random House more profitable than at any point in its history. For the first six months of 2012, sales were up 20%, while operating EBIT jumped 64%.
A major factor in RH’s 2012 success, of course, has been the phenomenal sales of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy, but her success also highlights RH’s ability to acquire a manuscript from a virtually unknown author and turn it into a global bestseller (RH publishes the trilogy in English, German, and Spanish worldwide). RH also continues to draw a higher proportion of its revenue from digital content, with digital sales accounting for 27% of U.S. revenue and 22% of worldwide sales in the first six months of 2012.
Despite the impressive run RH was putting together in the first part of 2012, the year took on an entirely different perspective when news broke in late October that Random House and Penguin—following regulatory approval sometime next year—will merge to form a new company that will be 53% owned by Bertelsmann and 47% owned by Pearson. As CEO of the newly formed Penguin Random House, Dohle will work with Penguin Group chairman John Makinson to meld the two companies into a new trade publisher that will be unprecedented in size and scope.
In one of four letters sent to different “stakeholders” in the forthcoming Penguin Random House, Dohle told RH employees, “my commitment to you and our new colleagues is to retain the distinct identities of both companies’ imprints, where authors remain the center of everything we do.... I am deeply convinced that the creativity and experience of our publishers, aligned with our decentralized entrepreneurship, will enable us—together with our new colleagues—to more completely and immediately realize our vision to provide our content for everyone, everywhere, in every format, and on every platform.”—Jim Milliot
John Makinson, Chairman, Penguin Group
John Makinson was at the center of the action in three of the biggest stories of 2012 and will certainly be front and center of industry events in 2013 as chairman of the fledgling superpublisher, Penguin Random House. Last spring, when the Department of Justice sued five publishers and Apple, charging them with colluding to fix e-book prices, Makinson, along with Macmillan CEO John Sargent, chose to fight the government rather than settle. “We have done nothing wrong,” Makinson said in April in explaining why Penguin had not discussed a settlement with the DoJ or the states that also filed suit against the publishers and Apple. The implementation of the agency model, he added, “offers consumers the prospect of an open and competitive market for e-books.” Makinson later acknowledged that Penguin could well need to make some accommodation with the government as discussions involving the approval of the Penguin-Random House merger move forward.
But before the news of the giant merger, in July, with the backing of Pearson, Penguin bought Author Solutions Inc., one the country’s largest self-publishing vendors, for $116 million. The purchase followed Penguin’s 2011 launch of Book Country, Penguin’s writer community and self-publishing venture. Makinson said that since the creation of Book Country he had been looking at the self-publishing market “with growing respect and admiration,” noting that “self-publishing is growing and converging with traditional publishing.”
But despite standing up to the DoJ and making a big play in the self-publishing market, what Makinson will be best remembered for will be as the first chairman of Penguin Random House. Unsurprisingly, Makinson was enthusiastic about the benefits the combination of Penguin and Random House will bring in a quickly changing marketplace, noting in a letter to Penguin employees that the combined resources of Penguin Random House will allow it “to take risks with new authors, to defend our creative and editorial independence, [and] to publish the broadest range of books on the planet.”
He also acknowledged that integrating the two companies will have its challenges.
“New companies take time to mature, however glorious and distinguished their antecedents. But I have no doubt that we have everything that we need—the authors, the imprints, the brands, the scale, and the people—to make this a company of which we can all be proud.”—Jim Milliot
Sharis Pozen, Former acting assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice
For Sharis Pozen, it was a brief tenure at the Department of Justice, but an eventful one—and one that cast a long shadow over the publishing industry in 2012.
As the acting assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division, Pozen spearheaded the controversial federal lawsuit against Apple and five major publishers charging an e-book price-fixing conspiracy. And then, just weeks after she announced the DoJ’s settlement with three of those publishers in April, Pozen left after three years with the government and only eight months as head of the DoJ’s antitrust division. A former partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Hogan & Hartson, where she served as a director of the firm’s Antitrust Practice Group, Pozen, who had announced in January she was leaving the DoJ on April 30, was on her way back to private practice, this time at the powerhouse firm of Skadden, Arps.
But in some ways, the e-book price-fixing investigation was a groundbreaker, as it was coordinated with state attorneys general as well as the European Commission, the first “global enforcement effort” of its kind, Pozen noted, for a civil antitrust enforcement matter.
In her public comments on the e-book case, Pozen was resolute. “By requiring the companies to allow retailers the freedom to lower the prices of their e-book titles, it will provide for a more open and fair marketplace,” she maintained. Of course, the suit and the settlement have been widely criticized as beneficial only to the “real monopolist” in the e-book business—Amazon.com—rather than benefiting consumers.
While the DoJ settlement was swiftly approved in September, a trial is set for June with Macmillan, Penguin, and Apple fighting the charges.—Andrew Albanese
Michael Serbinis, CEO, Kobo
For a while, it seemed that the fast-growing e-book marketplace was likely to be dominated by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with perhaps the iBookstore hard on their heels. But that was before Kobo and its youngish, indefatigable CEO, Michael Serbinis, showed up. From the beginning Serbinis said Kobo planned to compete aggressively on every front despite getting a bit of a late start in the e-book race. By 2011, Serbinis was managing the acquisition of the company—Kobo was originally owned by Canada’s Indigo Books and Music chain—by Rakuten, the global Japanese e-commerce retailer, for $315 million, which provided the capital for a burst of international expansion over 2012. Kobo released its first generation of devices (e-ink and tablet) last year and upgraded them all this year, adding the Kobo Mini and Kobo Glo e-ink readers and a much-improved tablet, the Kobo Arc. The company already had a deal in place in 2011 with French mass marketer FNAC to sell its devices in FNAC’s physical stores and via its Web site, and in 2012 Kobo inked similar deals to sell and display its devices at 100 WH Smith stores in the U.K. and with the Family Christian retail book chain and its 238 U.S. stores. Over the past year, Serbinis launched Kobo devices and online sites (with localized content) in Brazil, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latin America, New Zealand, South Africa, and Spain—with more to come.
Serbinis also shepherded the release of Writing Life, Kobo’s much-anticipated self-publishing platform, this past summer. He also inked a deal with the American Booksellers Association to replace Google Books’ much-maligned indie bookstore e-book program with a similar Kobo plan that includes selling its devices. And by the way, at the PW co-sponsored CEO panel at Frankfurt, Serbinis said, “We built a partner model, which I think is unique in the industry, where we power booksellers and work with publishers to create a win-win.” It wouldn’t be the first time Serbinis and Kobo made good on a promise.—Calvin Reid
Niko Pfund, President, Oxford University Press, U.S.
It may be a nonprofit, but in 2012 Oxford University Press clocked in at #22 on the Global 50 list of the world’s largest publishers, while also passing another milestone—it became a billion-dollar publisher. The press’s strong performance over the past decade was helped by OUP’s U.S. operation, where Niko Pfund was named president in 2011 after serving as acting head since 2010.
In fiscal 2012, OUP posted 10% growth in sales and a profit margin of roughly 18%. A cornerstone of the press’s success has been the publisher’s willingness to invest and experiment in digital. That kind of willingness to experiment has allowed OUP to expand its award-winning Oxford Scholarship Online platform to other university presses—University Press Scholarship Online—and to sign groundbreaking digital deals with major university presses, including Chicago and the University of California.
Pfund, who began his career as an editorial assistant at OUP, is quick to put the credit for the press’s great results on the press’s staff. “We have an extraordinarily fine group at the press who have now worked together for a long time. The sustained quality of our acquisitions—and, crucially, the way in which those books have been designed, marketed, publicized, and sold—are all significant components of our success.”—Andrew Albanese