Mark’s Say: June 2019
Not that I take much notice of them, but company mergers have always seemed fraught; the merger of two of the greatest English language publishers, Random House and Penguin, in 2013 was one I did take a keen interest in. The process took many years and the Australian divisions of the two companies didn’t seem to be immune from some strife. When they merged they ended up with two publishing departments and two great publishers, Nikki Christer from Random house and Ben Ball from Penguin.
After five years, it was decided that the merged company couldn’t support them both and Ben Ball left, much to the chagrin of some of the authors Ball had worked with. Tim Winton in particular was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying ‘A publisher of Ben’s stature is so rare in Australia and his departure diminishes the company, the trade and the culture.’ After a year off, Ball has just started as publishing director of Scribner in Australia, the literary imprint of Simon & Schuster. Prior to his role at Penguin Random House, Ball had worked for Scribner in the UK.
In related news, Nikki Christer has resigned as publishing director at Penguin Random House to take on a newly created position as publisher at large. This will enable her to return to a more hands-on role and work more closely with her authors, among them Richard Flanagan. Taking on her role will be Justin Ractliffe, previously joint managing director at Hachette Australia.
Ractliffe has been instrumental in supporting the emergence of Hachette Australia as a serious literary publisher, including publishing Stephanie Bishop, Mark Brandi and Claire Coleman. All these moves seem very positive to me and good for Australian writers and readers. It’s good to have Ball back in the industry and to see such talents as Christer and Ractliffe repurposed. There’s a long lead time in publishing but I’m sure we will see some good things for writers and readers come out of these moves.
Some of you may have attended our election party at the Church of All Nations in Carlton. George Megalogenis (author of The Football Solution: How Richmond’s Premiership Can Save Australia) and the Wheeler Centre’s Sally Warhaft (Well May We Say … The Speeches That Made Australia) led the panel with guest commentary by Peggy O’Neal (president of the Richmond football club), actor and writer Rhys Muldoon, academic Dennis Altman, former Gillard staffer Michael Cooney and journalists Margaret Simons and Michael Bachelard. It was held in the heart of the Melbourne electorate which returned Greens MP Adam Bandt with a record vote of around 75%, so as you can imagine the mood became rather subdued as the night progressed. A more energising recent event featured Stan Grant and Nam Le, ostensibly talking about Grant’s two new books, On Identity and Australia Day. Grant was as excited to meet and talk to Le as Le was to meet Grant. Readings has been organising such events since 1983 and I don’t think I can recall one as riveting. You can listen to the recording of this magical conversation on the Readings Podcast.