Random House and Penguin: Episode two of The Merger

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Once, Stephen Johnson was managing director of Random House South Africa. When it merged with Struik Publishing he was made MD of the new entity Random House Struik. Then he retired. Now he has emerged to become chief executive of Penguin Books South Africa.

Johnson, long Cape Town-domiciled, will be based in Johannesburg from January this year. His return to a publishing hot seat follows the surprising departure last year of the long-time Penguin South Africa chief, Alison Lowry.

In a press release, Johnson said: “It is a particular privilege — and the source of real excitement — that a third career, as it were, will begin for me in the New Year. I look forward enormously to immersing myself in a brand and range of titles with few equals in the world of writers and their works. To spread abroad the richness that is Penguin in the many different and innovative ways that publishing in the 21st century demands of us, especially in the South African market, is an adventure I look forward to with keen anticipation.”

Penguin and Random House announced plans last year to merge globally, so Johnson’s experience at the latter’s local operation might prove useful.

But given that Random House is the senior partner, some local industry insiders are speculating already about what the dynamics will be between Johnson and his successor at Random House Struik, Steve ­Connelly.

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Darryl Accone
Darryl Accone has been in journalism for the best part of four decades. He is also a Fellow of the Salzburg Seminar and the International Writers Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University and the author of ‘All Under Heaven: The Story of a Chinese Family in South Africa’ and ‘Euripides Must Die’.

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