• Monday, June 24, 2024

Two Top Penguin Random Business Editors are Leaving Amid Continuing Changes at the Publishing Business

Top editors Reagan Arthur and Lisa Lucas leave Penguin Random House amid financial restructuring and industry shifts, sparking dismay in the literary world.
on May 21, 2024
Two Top Penguin Random Business Editors are Leaving Amid Continuing Changes at the Publishing Business | Frontlist

Two top editors at Penguin Random House are leaving as the country's major trading publisher continues to shift during a period of unpredictable revenues and generational transition.

Two top editors at Penguin Random House are leaving as the country's major trading publisher undergoes transformation during a period of uncertain revenues and generational shifts.

Reagan Arthur, publisher of Alfred A. Knopf, and Lisa Lucas, publisher of Pantheon/Schocken, were let go by the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a Penguin Random House company, on Monday. 

A publishing official, who was not permitted to speak publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, stated that the restructure was due to financial considerations. Knopf and Pantheon/Schocken are two of the industry's most reputable literary publishers, while Arthur and Lucas are two of the most popular editors. Their departures sparked astonishment and dismay within the industry; novelist Sara Schaff wrote on X that the news was "demoralizing and short-sighted."

The book market has declined since early in the pandemic, when sales rose despite shutdowns in the entertainment industry and elsewhere. In a year-end corporate letter dated December 2023, Penguin Random House CEO Nihar Malaviya mentioned "very difficult and challenging" adjustments that the organization is facing. 

Knopf Doubleday publisher Maya Mavjee stated on Monday that the most recent "realignment" is "necessary for our future growth."

"Our new structure -- consisting of a nimble, concentrated leadership team -- will enable us to meet the trials of an ever-shifting marketplace, hone the shape and focus of our imprints, and continue to allow us to do what we do best: publish great books," Mavjee added.

Jordan Pavlin, who is now editor-in-chief at Knopf, will now also act as publisher. Denise Oswald, vice president-editorial director of Pantheon, will report to Bill Thomas, the publisher of Doubleday.

Several members of Penguin Random House's leadership team have retired, died, or left the company. 

After a federal judge rejected the publisher's acquisition of rival Simon & Schuster in 2022, CEO Markus Dohle resigned, and several long-time executives accepted buyout offers. Sonny Mehta, Arthur's immediate predecessor at Knopf, died in 2019. Robert Gottlieb, one of Knopf's most well-known editors, died last year.

Arthur, who joined Knopf in 2020 after leading Little, Brown & Company, previously collaborated with Ian McEwan and Nathan Hill, among others. Jayne Anne Phillips' "Night Watch," a Knopf book, has won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Lucas was also hired in 2020, following four years as executive director of the National Book Foundation, where she was the first Black person and woman to lead the non-profit organization. 

Her novels at Pantheon included Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's novel "Chain-Gang All-Stars," a National Book Award finalist, and Laura Warrell's novel "Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm," a PEN/Faulkner prize finalist.

Lucas wrote on X that she found out about her layoff a few days after receiving a professional accomplishment award from her alma institution, University of Chicago. The announcement came almost exactly six years after the death of her father, singer Reggie Lucas.

"WILD RIDE FOR ONLY FOUR DAYS," she said.

Adjei-Brenyah tweeted that Lucas had made Pantheon one of the industry's most diverse imprints, and that "to not even allow" her five years on the job was "pretty shameful." Pantheon author Nina McConigley said on X: "As an author who signed with @PantheonBooks, @likaluca was one of the reasons I was so excited. She serves as a role model in numerous ways. "So heartbroken."

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