Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More Characters Than A Russian Novel

One reason why Russian novels, like Anna Karenina or War and Peace, are so long is that half the population of Russia gets inserted into the story. You need a roster at hand, or some sort of family tree at least, to keep track of them all. Anyone following the latest round of changes in corporate structure at the Random Penguin publisher would like to have a roster of key players as well, to keep track of the endless procession of executives shifting duties.

Is there a big map of the corporate structure in some war room where the Penguin generals met to plot out a complex strategy?

At Penguin Random House, there is a great deal of realignment and reassignment going on, and it's not possible for any one person to have moved players around without using the sort of system that military men use to keep tabs on their battalions. The four-star general at PRH would be Madeleine McIntosh, more properly called the president of the new enterprise, and she has been very busy indeed.

Dutton feints right, Viking moves forward, Gotham is lost
Ms. McIntosh was hired to put her mark on the publisher, while at the same time combining two separate companies with two separate corporate cultures. Her job is to realize synergies, as they say, and cut the excess while streamlining the entire operation. Mergers cost money, and that money has to be recouped. That recouping must go on while the firm increases profits to provide nice little dividends for the stockholders, or the general gets demoted. No one likes losing a star.

So there she is with all these imprints and all these people running these imprints but not every imprint can make the cut. Which means not every executive is going to be needed, but at the same time, the imprints aren't really going away completely but will be absorbed in a sort of mini-merger. Say farewell to Clare Ferraro who once headed Viking but is being replaced by Brian Tart who is moving from Hudson Street which is ending its run as a separate imprint. Someone had to be sacrificed. War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.

It only gets more complex from there, with execs moving from one battalion to the next to reinforce the lines and rally the troops and lead them into battle against the competition. Editors fly to and fro, dragging their authors with them because authors are fiercely loyal to their editors. Write on, authors, write blockbusters that bring acclaim to Penguin Random House. Acclaim being profit, of course.

The whole scheme is so convoluted that Ms. McIntosh had to send a letter to employees to explain the revised chain of command, but all the troops really want to know is who their boss is, and do they still have a job as the merger takes hold and the corporate leaders trim away what they see as excess expense but the soldiers on the front line see as their financial life.

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