This summer, two years after the merger of Penguin Canada and Random House of Canada was finalized in July 2013, more than 200 employees left the publishers’ longtime separate headquarters and moved into a new Front Street office in downtown Toronto. The new office, which consists of two and a half floors in a tall building with windows overlooking Lake Ontario, features an open-concept design. Although there are private meeting rooms throughout the office, everyone, including Penguin Random House Canada president and CEO Brad Martin, has a desk out in the open. “We had so many offices before that it felt closed off,” says Tracey Turriff, v-p publicity and senior v-p corporate communications. “And I think the brightness makes a difference. We purposely designed it so that people were working by the windows.”
Martin admits that staff was apprehensive about the open concept, but he says people almost immediately made use of the open spaces. Bookshelves are distributed throughout every floor—in the reception area, in the meeting rooms, and on people’s desks. In the section where Penguin Canada’s editorial staff works, little touches of orange abound on the walls and the furniture to keep with the iconic Penguin feel.
“I’ve been in the business a long time—I’ve gone through operational integrations that have been horror shows,” Martin says. “But this was unbelievably smooth. It allowed us to continue to do the jobs we were hired to do, in terms of running our business.”
Now that PRH Canada is under one roof, others in the industry have expressed concerns that this monumental merger will mean fewer bids for authors and agents looking for a home for their titles. Sarah MacLachlan, president and publisher at House of Anansi Press, speculates that books that might previously have garnered multiple bids from Penguin and Random House separately will now just get one.
Howard White, publisher and cofounder of Harbour Publishing, says he has already experienced agents coming to him after they’d had a book rejected by PRH Canada because the publisher had a similar title in its collection of imprints. “It may be a bit early to tell, but I think the degree of choice that was available to Canadian writers from some of those joined companies has diminished, so this is causing authors and agents to look to some of the major independents like ourselves with new interest,” White says. “I mean, that’s looking at it very selfishly, but it doesn’t shape up as good news for Canadian authors. I do regret the loss of variety and choice.”
PRH Canada president and publisher Kristin Cochrane says, however, that some books might still receive bids from different divisions within the company. Martin also says there is little reason to worry about a lack of competition: “In the past it was Penguin, HarperCollins, and Random House; now it’s Harper, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House that are bidding for the big books. S&S has really come into its own as a publisher in the last two and a half years, so, in a sense, S&S has stepped into the role that Penguin had as well. No, I don’t think the authors or agents should be concerned about that.”
Earlier this year, Martin had caused some Canadian authors alarm when he said in an interview with the Globe and Mail that he was “not interested in a book that is going to generate less than $100,000 in revenue unless the editor or publisher has a compelling vision for the book and/or the author.”
But a few in the industry, such as Andrew Wooldridge, publisher of Orca Book Publishers, have defended the comment. “When you’re dealing with a company that size, and you’re dealing with the shareholders, I think that’s perfectly acceptable,” Wooldridge says, adding that it might give indie publishers the opportunity to sign midlist authors they wouldn’t otherwise have snagged.
Annick Press cofounder Rick Wilks says the strategy is “fair enough,” but may “cut a lot of writers loose,” which he also believes could help smaller publishers. “Our approach is to really work closely with writers and develop their work, and this may create some opportunities for us to do that,” Wilks says. “If they’re not in that $100,000 category, there may well be more people who will be more keen to get a lot of attention, to have a lot of time spent curating their work.”
Back at the new PRH Canada office, what used to be separate teams in departments such as marketing, publicity, production, and design are now working together on all Penguin Random House books. However, each of the 18 individual imprints—from McClelland & Stewart to Tundra Books to Appetite by Random House—has its own publisher, with an editorial team that works in collaboration to acquire projects that fit the imprint’s mandate.
“Each of those publishers reports to me,” Cochrane says. “And really the idea is that I, along with a few colleagues who work across the imprints, am very involved in key acquisition decisions, as well as the execution of campaigns. But there is editorial autonomy in shaping the vision of the list as well as acquiring for it.”
Martin, who was with Penguin Canada for more than a decade before he joined Random House of Canada, says bringing the two companies together was easier than expected because people have known each other within the publishing industry for a long time. “Culture only grows organically,” Martin says. “You have to prepare the field and let it happen, because you can’t force it or it tends to go wrong. So I think we have a good seedbed laid, if I might use a farming analogy.”