Disney chief to be new head of Penguin

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The Independent Online
One of the best-known names in British publishing, Penguin, is to get a Hollywood film chief as its new senior executive, the company's owner, Pearson, said yesterday.

Michael Lynton, the British-born, Disney-trained manager responsible for the cult hit-film Mr Holland's Opus and the more traditional box- office smash Crimson Tide, is to become the chief executive of Penguin worldwide on 1 October, bringing, Pearson hopes, some vintage Hollywood magic to the world of British book publishing.

Mr Lynton, 36, was also responsible for starting Disney's first foray into book publishing, which includes the Hyperion, Mouse Works and Disney imprints. He replaces Peter Mayer, who has decided to return to his family publishing company. John Makinson, the finance director at Pearson, said:"Peter was more of a publisher-manager, while Michael is a manager-publisher."

He joins at a crucial time for Penguin, and indeed for the whole of British publishing. The collapse of the Net Book Agreement (NBA) last year introduced fierce price competition into what had been a fixed and rather staid market.

Mr Lynton said from New York yesterday: "The changes in the UK are not dissimilar to what has been happening in the film business. There's been increasing competition and a much shorter time between when a book is published and when it is clear it will either be a hit or not. That's like films these days, which are all about the opening weekend gross."

Penguin Books in Britain has had a difficult time with the demise of the NBA but its fortunes had been reviving under Mr Mayer. The initial strong customer response to a range of special 60p minibooks were one reason for the excitement, although the market has since dried up - the casualty, Mr Makinson said, of too many copycat rivals.

Since then, Penguin UK has benefited from a reasonably strong "frontlist" of new titles, and the sector's best backlist. The performance of the US company has been even stronger, helped particularly by a few key bestsellers, not least Stephen King's new "part-book" concept, The Green Mile, all four instalments of which found their way on to the bestseller lists.

Mr Lynton was mum yesterday on his intended strategy at Penguin. But insiders at Pearson hope he will be able to do for Penguin what he did at Disney Books, building on strong brand-names, particularly cartoon characters from its film library.

On how book publishing has been changing, Mr Lynton was more forthcoming: "You either have to have a powerful franchise or a very powerful brand, like Disney, that the company can rally behind. Once you have that, the business can be very effective."

Mr Makinson echoed that view: "Certainly Michael has shown he knows what to do with intellectual property rights." IPR is at the centre of Pearson's attempts to build a modern media conglomerate, building on its strengths as a publisher, television producer and newspaper proprietor.

One hope is to create franchises through its publishing arm that can be exploited in film, on CD-Rom or through electronic publishing.