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in brief: literary world rocked by loss of two female publishing icons

Victoria Barnsley. Image: Martin Argles

Victoria Barnsley. Image: Martin Argles


Two of the top women in UK publishing have stepped down this week, leaving the so-called ‘Big Four’ publishing houses in Britain to be controlled by men.

Victoria Barnsley departed as chief executive (UK and International) of HarperCollins after a management shake-up by Rupert Murdoch. She had spent 13 years in the role.

Over at Random House, the merger with Penguin has seen Dame Gail Rebuck move from day-to-day control of the business to the role of UK chairman.

‘Four years ago there were four women heading up British publishers,’ says Liz Thomson of BrookBrunch. ‘On Sunday we had three, and today we have one.’ Ursula Mackenzie remains the only female CEO of a major UK imprint (Little Brown).

Further evidence of a shift towards a male-centric publishing era comes as Kate Swann, head of WHSmith, also stepped down this week. Six months ago, Marjorie Scardino retired after 13 years running Pearson, the owner of Penguin (it now owns 47% of the merged group). Both, like Barnsley and Rebuck, were replaced by men.

Barnsley will be replaced by Charlie Redmayne, who has spent the last two years running JK Rowling’s website Pottermore. Random Penguin UK is being ruled over by new CEO Tom Weldon and observers have pointed out that these two men represent an old-boy, public (UK for private) school generation.

Before the Penguin Group/ Random House merge, the ‘Big Four’ were Penguin Group, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Ian Stewart Chapman is the Managing Director, Simon & Schuster UK.

According to Bookseller+publisher, the merger between Penguin and Random House has not been so hard on women in positions of power. Gabrielle Coyne, previously CEO of Penguin Asia Pacific, has been appointed as CEO of Penguin Random House Asia Pacific and Andrew Davis and Karen Ferns will continue in their positions of joint managing directors of Random House Australia and New Zealand (at this time).

While women make up the majority of publishing and editing courses, and find success in middle-level roles such as that of editor or proofreader, it seems that those in CEO and Managing Director positions around the world are still predominantly male.

What are your thoughts, Lipsters? Would the trend back to men in power in publishing deter you from pursuing a career in publishing?

Let us know in the comments below.

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