PRH CEO Markus Dohle Stepping Down, End of Year

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Having doubled Bertelsmann’s book division revenues and ‘quintupled its profit,’ Markus Dohle is leaving as PRH’s first worldwide CEO.

Markus Dohle speaks on November 1 at Sharjah International Book Fair’s publishers’ conference. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

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

Dohle: ‘Enthusiasm and Passion’
Emphasizing that the news from Gütersloh and New York City arrives “on the best of mutual terms,” Germany’s Bertelsmann has announced today (December 9) that Markus Dohle is stepping down as worldwide CEO of Penguin Random House and as a member of Bertelsmann’s executive board. It’s being made clear that this is Dohle’s decision and that Bertelsmann regrets it.

The news will surprise many in world publishing. Dohle, 54, has come to be seen as perhaps the industry’s most energetic and expressive public advocate in the executive ranks. He refers to this himself today, referring to his “enthusiasm and passion.”

NPD Books’ Kristen McLean, familiar for her analysis to our Publishing Perspectives readers, confirms to Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter at The New York Times that this is hardly a convenient moment for Dohle to feel he must make this move. “There are unknowns at every level,” McLean says. “There are unknowns with consumer behavior, unknowns with what retailers are doing, and unknowns at the publisher level about what to invest in right now.”

Dohle’s role in the leadership of the largest trade publishing company–”a community of 325 imprints,” as he calls it, spanning many countries–has given his messages immediate attention. He has taken this seriously. He’s an outsized and welcoming personality, big enough to embrace the sheer expanse of PRH. He has leveraged his position as a bully pulpit to project an upbeat, boisterous can-do tone during some of contemporary publishing’s most sophisticated challenges.

Dohle was appointed the first CEO to lead the world’s largest trade book publishing company on July 1, 2013, when the publishing group was founded. He had become CEO of Random House in 2008.

Nihar Malaviya, currently a PRH vice-president and director of strategy and operations, is to become interim CEO at the start of the new year.

In his statement issued to the news media today, Dohle immediately connects his decision to the United States antitrust case that blocked Bertelsmann’s and PRH’s attempt to acquire Simon & Schuster.

Following the antitrust decision in the United States against the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster,” Dohle says, “I have  decided, after nearly 15 years on the executive board of Bertelsmann and at the helm of our  global publishing business, to hand over the next chapter of Penguin Random House to new leadership.

Markus Dohle

“I’m very grateful to the supervisory board, and especially to its chairman, Christoph Mohn, as well as to my colleagues on the executive board for their long-standing trust and support of my decision. I would also like to thank all my colleagues at Bertelsmann,  and especially at Penguin Random House, with whom I have had the privilege of working closely and trustfully over the past nearly 30 years.

“I have led our global book business with great enthusiasm and passion and I am proud of what we have achieved together. Penguin  Random House has a great future ahead, and I very much look forward to continuing to serve Bertelsmann in an advisory capacity. Today, I look back with gratitude, and forward with great confidence and joy: for Bertelsmann, for Penguin Random House, and also for me personally.”

Dohle: ‘To Help Defend Our Democracy’

Dohle has been outspoken about the crucial need for the freedom to publish and about book publishing’s place in the world’s democratic order, particularly in the current era of authoritarian dynamics. Demonstrating the kind of personal commitment to his work that’s one of his trademarks, he personally seeded the US$500,000 Dohle Book Defense Fund with PEN America in February amid myriad book-banning attempts in the States and in other world markets.

“The fact that our global book publishing group is in such a strong position today is largely thanks to Markus Dohle.”Christoph Mohn, Bertelsmann

In October 2021, Dohle had opened Frankfurter Buchmesse’s new Frankfurt Studio facility in a live hour-long conversation with Publishing Perspectives. During our discussion, he talked about the profound value he sees in immersive, long-form reading.

“It helps you to actually see the world from other points of view,” he said, “and we know it creates empathy and human values, especially in young people. That’s what the world needs right now if we want to help defend our democracy, based on human values.”

Another indicator of that personal commitment has been Dohle’s insistence that publishing’s efforts to diversify its ranks should create a workforce reflective of the consumer base. Among his strongest signals of this have been his appointments of women to some of the most important positions in the international business, naming, for example, Madeline McIntosh CEO of Penguin Random House USA and Kristen Cochrane CEO of PRH Canada.

His influence has been pervasive in the industry, not least because of his board service with the Council on Foreign Relations, Frankfurter Buchmesse, the Jerusalem International Book Forum, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN America.

Dohle: ‘Utterly Wrong’

Markus Dohle with Bodour Al Qasimi onstage at the 2022 Sharjah International Book Fair Publisher Conference. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Professional industry attendees at this year’s 12th Sharjah Publishers Conference in the United Arab Emirates could see clearly Dohle’s bitter disappointment on November 1, the morning after Judge Florence Yu Pan’s order was made public.

Dohle, going through with a scheduled appearance at the conference, told Bodour Al Qasimi, president of the  International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) onstage, that the court’s decision was “utterly wrong.” If the S&S acquisition had not been blocked by the Biden administration’s Justice Department, “Readers would have benefited from this merger because we sell our books through more retailers than anybody else in 20,000 retail locations in the US, 160,000 retail locations globally.

“Authors would have been benefiting because of more royalties, because of more sales, and their agents [would benefit], of course, too,” he said. “And ultimately, because of our synergies, we would have paid more taxes, so the taxpayer would have been benefiting. So it was good for our constituencies. And, by the way, we’ve lost some market share. So Simon & Schuster is basically refilling lost market share for us. And after the merger, we would have been less than 20 percent of the United States’ trade [book publishing] market, less than 20 percent—while Amazon is 50 percent of the retail side.”

“I am biased,” Dohle said onstage, “and I’m very disappointed.”

Mohn: ‘We Regret Markus Dohle’s Decision’

In today’s media messaging, the chair of Bertelsman’s supervisory board, Christoph Mohn, is quoted, saying, “We regret Markus Dohle’s decision to leave Bertelsmann and Penguin Random House.

“He has sustainably focused Penguin Random House on growth and profitability. Under his leadership, our book division more than doubled its revenues and quintupled its profit. The fact that our global book publishing group is in such a strong position today is largely thanks to Markus Dohle.

“Bertelsmann is very grateful to him for this, as well as for his work on the group’s executive board. The same applies to Markus Dohle’s many other achievements at Arvato and in the Mohn Media Group during his nearly 30-year Bertelsmann career. Personally, and on behalf  of the supervisory board and the company, I wish Markus Dohle all the very best for his professional and personal future.”  

Thomas Rabe, Bertelsmann’s chair and CEO, says, “Together with Markus Dohle, we on the executive board have advanced Bertelsmann’s development in recent years–especially with the successful combination of Penguin and Random House.

Thomas Rabe

“Markus Dohle gradually expanded Penguin Random House and strengthened the book publishing group’s global presence together with his international management team. He has signed and retained numerous authors for the publishing company. I would like to thank him for our successful collaboration, which I have always greatly appreciated, and I am pleased that Markus Dohle will remain associated with us in an advisory capacity.  

“Nihar Malaviya is an outstanding leader and an entrepreneurial publishing  professional who knows Penguin Random House inside out.

“As the person responsible for all  operational publishing processes in the US as well as the implementation of a global tech and data agenda, he has played a major role in the company’s success and created sustainable competitive advantages for Penguin Random House globally. With his deep  understanding of the global media landscape and publishing industry, he’ll continue to develop the company and invest in its expansion, both organically and through acquisitions.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on the work of Markus Dohle is here, more on Penguin Random House is here, more from us on Bertelsmann is here, more on mergers and acquisitions in 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.