Pearson is selling Penguin Random House in a decision to focus on educational publishing. Its CEO John Fallon will retire in 2020, once his successor has been found.
Pearson who have owned Penguin Random House since 1970, began a joint venture with the German media group Bertelsmann in 2013. In July 2017 Pearson sold a further 22% to Bertelsmann for $1bn. And has now announced it will be selling its last 25% for £530m.
This means none of the top five English Language book publishers are owned by British companies: Simon & Schuster once owned by Pearson is now part of the US media conglomerate ViacomCBS, German Holtzbrinck owns Macmillian, HarperCollins is part of the US News Corporation. And John Murray was sold in 2002 to the French publishers Hachette.
Penguin was founded in July 1935 by Sir Allen Lane. The idea first occurred to him, while waiting for a train back to London from Exeter St Davids. He had spent the weekend at Agatha Christies, Torquay country home. As he browsed the stalls for something to read, a young Sir Allen was disgusted by the poor selection of novels and magazines. He had a vision of making books readily available, in cheap paperback format.
“I wanted the books to sell at the same price as a packet of cigarettes so that no one could possibly say they couldn’t afford them.”Sir Allen Lane
Despite much scepticism, three million books were sold during Penguins first year in business. The publishers paperback books cost just sixpence (£1.74 in todays money), oppose to eight shillings (£27.89) for the traditional hardback book.
Sir Allen Lane died in 1970 age 69. Weeks later the publishing house would be sold to Pearson. Now we can only wait and see what the future holds for a legendary British publishing brand.