Markus Dohle: ‘We Outperformed the Markets in Canada, Brazil, India’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Calling his workforce ‘a dedicated community of talented book-loving people,’ Markus Dohle commends PRH’s employees on 2021’s gains.

Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Markus Dohle in interview with Publishing Perspectives at the inauguration of Frankfurter Buchmesse’s Frankfurt Studio, October 19, 2021. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Johannes Minkus

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

Dohle to Employees: ‘Our Growth Mindset’
As Penguin Random House parent Bertelsmann in Gütersloh announces “double-digit organic growth and record operating result” for 2021 today (March 31), PRH worldwide CEO Markus Dohle has issued a memo to all global employees of the world’s largest publishing company, writing, “We asked much of you in 2021—and you again delivered.”

Clearly proud of his staffers’ performance, Dohle writes to them, “While the global consumer demand for books, especially in the U.S., set the stage for our fiscal performance, it was your passion for our books and authors that allowed us to realize our 2021 potential.

“As a collective, you continued to drive content acquisitions, experimented with new ways to reach readers through all channels, especially online, navigated the supply chain challenges that impacted our industry in most of our markets, and balanced a virtual and in-person work environment.”

Going right to the international framework he has nurtured as PRH chief, Dohle writes, “We outperformed the markets in Canada, Brazil, India, South Africa, and our Spanish-language territories, and our global DK business delivered a standout year through growth in online sales and its rich backlist.”

And indeed, what Dohle refers to in addressing the staff as “realizing our 2021 potential” shows up in some impressive numbers on Bertelsmann’s paperwork.

  • Penguin Random House’s revenues for 2021 are listed as €4.03 billion, up 6 percent over the 2020 revenue figure of €3.8 billion (US$4.46 billion over $4.2 billion)
  • Organic growth was 7.3 percent
  • Operating EBITDA for PRH reached €755 million in 2021 over €691 million in 2020 (US$837 million over $766 million)

In its annual report, Bertelsmann confirms, “Penguin Random House is, based on revenue, the world’s largest trade book publisher, with more than 300 imprints across six continents.”

Specifically listed internationalized brands include:

  • Doubleday, Riverhead, Viking, and Alfred A. Knopf (United States)
  • Ebury, Hamish Hamilton and Jonathan Cape (United Kingdom)
  • Goldmann and Heyne (Germany)
  • Plaza & Janés and Alfaguara (Spain)
  • Sudamericana (Argentina)
  • International imprint Dorling Kindersley

Also of interest to our internationalist readership here at Publishing Perspectives is this breakdown of Penguin Random House revenues by region.

Image: Bertelsmann

Notice that 9.1 percent in 2021 came from European markets outside the United Kingdom, which accounted for 11.8 percent. The States anchored the revenue base at 56.5 percent, but Germany showed a strong 6.9 percent, and France held 0.3 percent. Other international markets accounted for 15.4 percent of the big company’s revenues.

It’s also instructive to see that 1.5 percent of revenues for PRH in 2021 are attributed to rights and licensing business (US$58 million), 3.2 percent to services, and the lion’s share to the company’s own products and merchandise at 95.3 percent.

“Each year Penguin Random House publishes more than 16,000 new titles,” the report reads, “and sells more than 700 million print books, ebooks and audiobooks.”

And for those who keep track of these things, in the past, we’ve said that PRH published some 15,000 new titles annually. That number has now jumped by 1,000.

“I want to express my thanks to all of you who joined Penguin Random House in donating to the Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. We will continue to find ways to support the Ukrainian people—and we will do all we can to promote democracy and peace in our world.”Markus Dohle, Penguin Random House

In the German-language markets, the report has it, “Penguin Random House Verlagsgruppe maintained its leading market position; online sales in particular increased. Best-selling titles in their respective categories were Über Menschen by Juli Zeh (fiction hardcover), Das Kind in Dir muss Heimat finden by Stefanie Stahl (nonfiction paperback) and Der Gesang der Flusskrebse by Delia Owens (fiction paperback).”

Regarding the Simon & Schuster acquisition, Bertelsmann’s report says, “In May, the United Kingdom Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) approved Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon & Schuster. A United States Department of Justice challenge to the deal is scheduled to be heard in the US federal court during the financial year 2022.”

At a later point in the report, we read a bit more on the S&S question: “Penguin Random House has contractually agreed to pay Paramount Global [formerly ViacomCBS] a ‘regulatory termination fee’ of US$200 million in the event that the acquisition is prohibited in its entirety or if the termination date is reached. Currently, no cash outflow is expected for the regulatory termination fee.

“The US Department of Justice filed suit in federal court in Washington, DC, on November 2, 2021, seeking to enjoin the transaction and raising concerns that the acquisition of authors’ rights would create a monopsony among buyers. Bertelsmann has retained experienced litigation counsel and rejects the Department of Justice’s grounds for prohibition as without merit.”

Dohle: ‘Long-Term Aspirations’

In prose that echoes Dohle’s trademark enthusiasm, he writes today, “We are a dedicated community of talented book-loving people, and our growth mindset drives our long-term aspirations. And in order to fulfill our purpose—to create the future of books and reading in our society for generations to come—in addition to investing in authors and stories, we must further double down on addressing consumer needs in publishing’s ever-changing marketplace.”

Image: Bertelsmann

One need Dohle himself has identified and responded to is the rising tide of book bans and censorship in the United States and many other markets as a new clash between democratic and autocratic dynamics continues to unsettle the world order. Not for nothing is the Penguin Random House/Doubleday author Anne Applebaum write today at The Atlantic, “Perhaps we can learn something from the Ukrainians. They are showing us how to have both patriotism and liberal values.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, last month Dohle personally donated US$500,000 to seed the Dohle Book Defense Fund with PEN America.

For our readers who have asked, we’ve been in touch today with PEN to ask if there’s a link to be used by those who would like to donate to the fund and help fight, with Dohle, the dark energies of information blackouts and free-speech oppression that we see, for example, in such a grotesque form being perpetrated by Vladimir Putin in Russia. When we have such information, we’ll update our story here.

Below, as we quote his memo, you’ll find Dohle reflecting on the geopolitical significance he understands for world publishing’s top organization. He knows the role of a statesman and the unique communicative framework of literature, writing, “We will do all we can to promote democracy and peace in our world.”

Dohle goes on to say to his staff, “Globally, we saw physical bookstores begin to recover in 2021, while we have continued to experience an ongoing shift to online, and with it, the increase in backlist sales.”

This note, the second time his memo mentions backlist, won’t be missed by many who know that one feature of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic‘s effects on publishing has been a new prominence, in many cases, for backlist.

Dohle writes, “We will mobilize around these developments to realize our 2022 ambitions: meet the interests of many kinds of readers, positively contribute to our society, and boost our organic growth through excellence in content and reach. It is this combination of creativity and entrepreneurship that is and will be at the heart of our success in the years to come.

“Finally,” he writes, “I want to express my thanks to all of you who joined Penguin Random House in donating to the Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. We will continue to find ways to support the Ukrainian people—and we will do all we can to promote democracy and peace in our world.

“I am honored to work alongside you.”

Follow our coverage of Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and its impact on the country’s publishing players and international industry reactions. 

More from Publishing Perspectives on Penguin Random House is here, more on Markus Dohle is here, more on Bertelsmann is here, more on industry statistics is here, more on freedom of expression is here, more on the freedom to publish is here, and more on banned books is here

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.

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.