Year-End Changes: PRH Canada Separates Knopf and Random House

In News by Porter Anderson

Expanding the roles of women in the company’s leadership, CEO Kristin Cochrane retains Anne Collins while moving Martha Kanya-Forstner to lead Knopf Canada and bringing in Sue Kuruvilla for RH Canada.

Toronto’s traditional Cavalcade of Lights, here in 2014, has been canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, though a 60-foot Christmas tree has been lit at Nathan Phillip Square. The city asks that visitors to the tree this year come only with their family units, masking up and distancing themselves. Image – iStockphoto: Niloo

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

Cochrane: ‘Space for Each To Build on Past Successes’
In today’s memo to the Penguin Random House Canada staff today (December 9), CEO Kristin Cochrane has announced that she is “dissolving” the Knopf Random House Canada group, “allowing each of the existing imprints of the division–Knopf Canada and Random House Canada—to operate independently, each with its own distinct identity.”

While an internal move, this is an instance that runs counter to some observers’ assertions that all impulses in major publishing are toward consolidation. The dynamic here, a thoughtful one, is supportive of two imprints’ respective singularity.

“While the Knopf Random House Canada group has been successful as a division since these two storied imprints were put together over a decade ago,” she writes today, “I believe the time is right to have space for each to build on its past successes and pave the way for the future.

“In an increasingly crowded marketplace, with even more challenges upon us to reach readers with our authors’ books, the need to sharpen the focus of our publishing and clear its path to the reader is greater than ever.

Kristin Cochrane

“We have in Knopf Canada and Random House Canada two of the most esteemed imprint names in all of English-language publishing, and while they’ve sat together well, I strongly believe that the future of each imprint is much brighter on its own.”

In terms of leadership, Anne Collins, who has been head of the combined Knopf Random House Canada group, is to become on January 4, the executive editor and vice-president of Random House Canada. Cochrane’s explanation is that she and Collins have talked about giving Collins “more freedom, flexibility, and time to do what she loves most–editing books and working closely with writers to support them to achieve their creative and commercial ambitions.

“Anne will therefore step back from her responsibilities as publisher and the publishing head role she has held for 11 years, now that Knopf Canada and Random House Canada will each stand alone.” Indeed, it turns out, Cochrane says, that this move was something she and Collins had expected to announce in June, something delayed, of course, by the disruption of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Anne Collins

In a quote provided in the memo, we hear from Collins, who says, ““This is a bittersweet moment, given how much I value and respect every member of the wonderful team we’ve created at the Knopf Random House Canada publishing group, and how much I’ve learned from them and also from working in my publisher role across the company.

“But then comes the sweet part: I’m so excited to see where their new leaders will take these estimable, storied, and very different imprints.

“And I am delighted that at last I’ll be able to focus on the work I love best.”

Having found this way, then, of reassigning Collins to work she’d prefer, Cochrane’s media messaging turns to announcing the respective leadership of Knopf Canada and Random House Canada, finding what she wants in two women for the roles of heading up what will now be two of a total seven divisions.

Martha Kanya-Forstner and Sue Kuruvilla

In announcing that Martha Kanya-Forstner will head up Knopf Canada as of January 4, Cochrane writes that Kanya-Forstner will continue to report to her, and that she will retain her role as a vice-president of the umbrella Penguin Random House Canada.

Martha Kanya-Forstner

Martha has long been recognized as one of our country’s finest editors,” Cochrane writes. “She is deeply devoted to  her authors and their books, and is a thoughtful, warm, and intelligent colleague, admired by so many from around the industry and abroad.

“While Martha’s careful eye and commitment to  publishing success have made her such a brilliant editor, I have long known that Martha has the  natural instincts of a publisher, and I look forward to seeing her fully embrace that role with this  appointment. Martha has an excellent grasp on the need to balance the business with the art, a  strong vision for the creative process, and a range and breadth of editorial expertise across both  fiction and non-fiction publishing, and she is therefore ideally suited to this imprint, which for so  long has excelled in bringing some of the best voices from across the spectrum to readers  throughout Canada.”

And while Kanya-Forstner’s full career has been spent at the publishing house, the new leader for Random House Canada, Cochrane says, is to be Sue Kuruvilla, former public relations head for the Toronto Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri and his nonprofit foundation, Giants of Africa. Cochrane describes Kuruvilla as “a seasoned communications, brand, public relations, and partnerships professional, with  deep experience in sports, fashion, music, and entertainment.”

Sue Kuruvilla

In going outside for her appointment of the new publisher of Random House Canada, Cochrane writes that Kuruvilla “was principal of the Creative Klatch agency,  where she represented, advised, and collaborated with a variety of clients across the retail, sports, technology, and entertainment categories, and was co-founder of the Thomas Callahan speaker agency, where she worked with a variety of clients including Silken Laumann and Masai Ujiri to  build their brands.

“Sue’s experience working in-house includes leadership roles on consumer  brands such as Nike and Fred Perry, and agency work with Disney, Target, CBC, CFL, and  Nintendo. She is also a founding member of the recently launched Canadian Black Standard, a  network and advocacy platform addressing systemic barriers to employment advancement and  the inclusion of Black Canadian womxn in marketing.”

And in what may catch the eye of Canadian publishing industry players–many of whom are perpetually skeptical about the presence of “the multinationals” among their own Canadian-born companies–Cochrane writes, “Above all, I am confident that Sue will help  Random House Canada broaden its reach within Canadian culture, and that will in turn benefit  all of our publishing.”

As of January 4, the Canadian wing of Penguin Random House, then, will have as its seven divisions:

  • Doubleday Canada
  • Penguin Canada
  • McClelland & Stewart
  • Young Readers
  • Appetite
  • Knopf Canada
  • Random House Canada

And her memo may strike some as interesting at a time when the Big Five consolidation story of the day is Bertelsmann/Penguin Random House’s intent to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS, subject to potential regulatory hurdles in the United States. Against that backdrop, by contrast, Cochrane in Toronto is talking about putting some distance between two key publishing entities.

Of course Cochrane’s moves in Toronto are vested within the PRH portfolio there and this is not a development connected to the Simon & Schuster buy. But on a much smaller scale, this action’s dynamic runs in a different direction: its effect is a friendly breakup of one division into two.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Penguin Random House is here, more on the Canadian market is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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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.