On Markus Dohle’s departure and the Dohle Book Defence Fund
When Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Markus Dohle spoke at the Sharjah Publishers Conference last month his appearance coincided with the US court blocking PRH’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster. He quipped to International Publishers Association president Sheikha Bodour: “I may not have a job to go back to.”
Six weeks later those words seem prophetic. Dohle has just announced he is stepping down as CEO to be replaced by Nihar Malaviya, currently president and chief operating officer of Penguin Random House US.
An interesting question remains: what happens to the unusual Dohle Book Defence Fund now? This is the fund launched in February this year, in partnership with PEN America as part of the latter’s centenary celebrations, ‘to combat, in real-time, the rising threats to freedom of speech and open discourse within communities nationwide’. Dohle, who is the executive vice president of the PEN America board, pledged to personally donate a minimum of $100,000 to the organization each year for five years.
One assumes that Dohle will still offer his support, though a personal annual donation becomes that much tougher – more meaningful perhaps – when it isn’t operating alongside a regular monthly income, but is coming out of savings.
Shortly before this article went to press Dohle’s office confirmed that the Fund is his “family fund” and will continue. Although he is parting day to day company with PRH, in his advisory capacity with Bertelsmann he will continue to represent PRH on all the industry bodies on which he currently sits, among them the Association of American Publishers, the National Book Foundation and PEN America itself. He said he will also increase his involvement on the above bodies and especially with PEN because he believes so deeply – personally and professionally – in its mission.
Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America, told the New York Times: “In previous times, we’d deal with a few of these [book ban] situations a year. Now we’re dealing with new challenges and bans every week, and at a much larger scale,” she said. “It’s not just parents appealing to principals and librarians, it’s legislation being introduced in state houses to impose sweeping bans on what kinds of books are available to students. And it’s enmeshed in a much larger political battle over the narratives that are accessible in this country, which narratives communities want to elevate and to suppress.”
The Dohle Book Defence Fund, she said, would be used to help cover expenses related to PEN’s efforts to fight those challenges, including consultants, lawyers and costs associated with public campaigns and media events.”
On Dohle’s departure itself, it seems that since Dohle led PRH’s bid to buy S&S he presumably felt that once that bid failed, his position was untenable. He said: “Following the antitrust decision in the US against the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, 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.
“I am 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.”