Pot-boiler at Penguin
Morale is low at the publisher but Patrick Hosking is told to expect a bright new chapter
Sunday 07 January 1996
Even so, industrial action in the book trade is virtually unheard of. What can he have done to prompt his employees to wave placards outside their London offices in well-heeled Kensington last month?
The answer is simple. He sacked more than 100 of them. Penguin UK, hit by sharply falling revenues, has had to pull in its horns. There have been some high-profile departures too: Trevor Glover, the UK managing director, was ousted in November and American-based Mayer is temporarily filling in for him, hopping back and forth across the Atlantic.
Fanny Blake, editorial director, who published William Boyd's first novel, A Good Man in Africa, left amid a welter of acrimony. Staff morale at the company, part of the Pearson media group, is at rock-bottom.
Mayer, jet-lagged and smoking in his book-swamped office, responds: "Was there ever a company that had to cut costs and lose staff that was totally happy? It's understandable."
The worst is already over, he says. "We don't plan any further redundancies. We are planning revenue increases."
Penguin's worldwide contribution to Pearson profits collapsed at the half year from pounds 3.3m to pounds 1.5m and the full-year contribution is expected to be sharply down on last year's record pounds 40m.
Mayer insists that Penguin is in rude health outside the UK. In Britain, however, he blames a lack of consumer confidence, uncertainty caused by the demise of the trade's price-fixing arrangement, the Net Book Agreement, higher paper costs and the collapse of the bookselling group Pentos.
He denies that the cheap and highly successful classics series put out by the rival Wordsworth group caught Penguin on the hop. "We weren't slow to respond. We decided not to respond and we were wrong. We thought that given our classics list was 14,000 titles deep and of the highest standard, that was a strong enough franchise, and that Wordsworth cherry-picking the biggest titles would be a temporary force and would go away. It didn't, so we responded and we responded brilliantly."
Penguin brought out its own discounted classics range. "It didn't hit us financially," insists Mayer. "We made as much profit as before. We sold 8 million additional books."
The Penguin 60s series of mini-books has been a sensation in sales volume terms. Penguin has sold 12 million of them in the UK and 19.5 million worldwide. Each book makes 8-12p in profit before overheads depending on royalties, says Mayer who, with editor-in-chief Peter Carson, came up with the idea last spring. But he admits that the range has reduced demand for Penguin's fully priced conventional titles.
Pat Barker, whose The Ghost Road won the 1995 Booker prize, has also helped swell Penguin revenues. Even so, the company desperately needs to boost income more if it is to justify its still substantial UK costs - it employs about 700 in the UK.
Mayer has great hopes for The Green Mile, Stephen King's new novel, which he plans to publish in six separate pounds 1.99 issues over a period of months. He denies this is a shameless gimmick: "It's going back to Dickens and Dostoyevsky [whose novels were published in serial format]. It's a promotion designed to find new readers. We look to be very much more innovative in the future."
That also means being more nimble: Penguin brought out Ken Saro-Wiwa's autobiography just eight days after his execution.
Penguin is also dipping a toe in the CD-Rom market. It expects to sell 2,000 copies of its first product, Rock 'n' Rom, a reference work on rock music priced at pounds 999. The development costs were just pounds 70,000. "We're on the look-out for other winners," he says.
Whatever the outcome for Mayer, who is already credited with turning round Penguin in the 1970s, he need never drive a cab again. According to the latest accounts, he owns 305,000 Pearson shares worth pounds 1.92m.
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 3 Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
- 4 UK weather: 'Coldest night of the year' tonight as freezing temperatures plummet to -10C
- 5 Game of Thrones is most-pirated TV show of 2014
President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations
Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
AirAsia flight QZ8501 missing: Search for plane carrying 162 passengers from Indonesia to Singapore suspended overnight
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
iJobs Money & Business
Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...
Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...
Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...
Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...