Industry Notes: Canada’s PRH Gets a Female CEO; Sweden’s Universities End Elsevier Contract

In News by Porter Anderson

Penguin Random House names Kristin Cochrane to the role of CEO in Canada. And in Sweden, the national universities’ and research consortium says it can’t get the open-access arrangements it needs from Elsevier.

In Toronto. Image – iStockphoto: Andres Garcia M

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson


With the announcement today (May 17) that Brad Martin will retire, effective June 30, as CEO of Penguin Random House Canada, Markus Dohle has named Kristin Cochrane as the new CEO of the Canadian company. She’ll also be joining the PRH global executive committee.

Cochrane has most recently worked as president and publisher of the company, which she originally joined in 2005.

In his letter to the staff, Dohle writes, in part, “As a leader, Kristin has an impressive track record of mentoring and empowering her publishing teams to make our iconic Canadian imprints even more successful. Her focus on creating and enhancing the distinct identity and direction for each of our imprints, while sharing best practices across them, has been instrumental in helping to make Penguin Random House Canada the publishing powerhouse it is today.

“During her tenure, the team in Canada has celebrated wins for its authors of the Giller Prize three of the last four years, the Booker Prize, a Nobel last year for Kazuo Ishiguro and for Canada’s treasured Alice Munro in 2013.”

Last month, it was announced that Penguin Random House US would also have a woman CEO, Madeline McIntosh.

Kristin Cochrane

Late last year, Cochrane spoke to Publishing Perspectives for our special magazine, Publishing in Canada.

While “the multinationals”—Canadian arms of Big Five publishers from the US—tend to be regarded by some in Canadian publishing as poachers of Canada’s talent and houses that can overwhelm the market with American titles, Cochrane nevertheless enjoys high regard in many parts of the industry, described as “Canada’s pre-eminent literary kingmaker” in a 2016 Toronto Life article that rated her one of Toronto’s 50 most influential people.

Cochrane was refreshingly forthright about the debate around non-national publishers in the Canadian English-language marketplace, telling Publishing Perspectives that she was tired of the multinational vs. Canadian-owned publisher debate.

“Are we going to keep focusing on ownership or are we going to focus on Canadian authors?” she asked. “We should be putting the creator and their work at the center of the conversation.”

Similarly she said she’d like to move beyond discussion of Penguin Random House as a monolith. “There isn’t a [single] Penguin Random House character,” she said. “It’s the individual houses and they are very different places.

“There’s a perception that things are very top-down,” she continued. “I think of myself as the cheerleader-in-chief. I’m very team-based in my approach. I work to support what those publishers are trying to achieve.” On the other hand, she d that she’s “involved in all the acquisitions.”

Although it’s part of Bertelsmann, “The seat of government for Penguin Random House worldwide is in New York,” Cochrane pointed out. “The Canadian office is part of an international organization.” But not a monolith, she said, adding that “Markus [Dohle] articulates the company as a multi-local.”

Cochrane also echoed the view of Canadian literary agents on a growing momentum in acquisition of world rights for new titles. “We try to acquire world rights when we feel the book has world audience,” she said. “We try to bring the clout of the overall company. We only acquire rights that we intend to exploit.”

As Dohle writes now, Cochrane “will set and implement the day-to-day and long-term publishing and business strategy for our Canadian company. She will now oversee the sales, finance, operations, HR, communications, marketing and publicity groups and functions, while continuing to guide the publishing programs she has brilliantly developed.”

Sweden’s Universities, Research Institutes, Leave Elsevier After 20 Years

Those watching developments around open access in scholarly journals will be interested in the announcement Wednesday (May 16) from Sweden’s Royal Library, stating that after two decades, the Bibsam Consortium is not renewing its contract with Elsevier.

Bibsam, since 1996, has negotiated license agreements as the National Library of Sweden for electronic information resources on behalf of Swedish universities, university colleges, governmental agencies, and research institutes. Its purview comprises some 85 organizations, each of which is a participant in at least one of 68 agreements.

Total turnover in 2017, the consortium reports, was €35 million (US$41.3 million).

The rationale for non-renewal of the Elsevier contract, according to a statement to the media, is that Elsevier is not providing what the Swedish consortium needs “to make the necessary transition from a subscription-based [plan] to an open-access publishing system.”

And what’s required, Bibsam says, is:

  • Immediate open access to all articles published in Elsevier journals by researchers affiliated to participating organizations
  • Reading access for participating organizations to all articles in Elsevier’s 1,900 journals
  • A sustainable price model that enables a transition to open access

According to media materials from Stockholm, “Elsevier has not been able to present a model that meets the demands of the Bibsam Consortium and the current agreement will not be renewed after June 30. Swedish researchers publish approximately 4,000 articles per year in Elsevier journals. In 2017, €1,3 million (US$1.5 million) was spent on article processing charges, on top of the €12 million (US$14.2 million) that organizations spend on licensing fees for reading the Elsevier content.”

As Bibsam moves away from its Elsevier contract, the consortium says that reseearchers from participating organizations will continue to have access to articles published between 1995 and 2017, but new subscription-based content published after June 30 on the Elsevier platform.

In a prepared statement, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, who is president of Stockholm University and chair of the Bibsam Consortion steering committee, is quoted, saying, “Increasing costs of scientific information are straining university budgets on a global scale while publishers operate on high profit margins.

“An alternative to the current publishing and pricing model is ‘open access,’ in which institutions pay to publish their articles and the articles become open for everyone to read, immediately upon publication.

“We need to monitor the total cost of publication as we see a tendency toward a rapid increase of costs for both reading and publishing. The current system for scholarly communication must change and our only option is to cancel deals when they don’t meet our demands for a sustainable transition to open access.”

Those needing more information on the coordination of open-access and scientific publications in Sweden will find it here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.