May 22, 2013

Even more turnover at Granta


Sigrid Rausing, Granta’s owner and publisher, will be taking over “full operational and executive control of Granta Publications.”

A month ago, Granta announced that editor John Freeman was leaving to teach creative writing at Columbia University. Three weeks ago, it was reported that the New York office would be closing and that three other staffers—deputy editor Ellah Allfrey, art director Michael Salu, and associate editor Patrick Ryan—were also on their way out. Yesterday, The Bookseller revealed that Philip Gwyn Jones, executive publisher for Granta Books and Portobello Books, is the latest longtime staffer to leave Granta and that publisher Sigrid Rausing will be taking over “full operational and executive control of Granta Publications.”

According to The Bookseller:

Jones’ departure is described as part of a reorganisation which follows the resignations of magazine editor John Freeman and deputy editor Ellah Allfrey. When he leaves, a single, editorial-only role of editor-in-chief is to be created, covering both the editing of Granta magazine and the commissioning of books for the Granta and Portobello imprints. The role will be filled later this summer.

Rausing said: “The economic realities of [a] small imprint publishing today has made it obvious that we need the magazine and books to be a single entity to exploit the synergy between them.” She went on: “Philip has been with Granta and Portobello Books for some eight years now and I am very proud of the list we have created with both imprints. His unwavering commitment to literary quality, and his commitment to the company, have been invaluable.”

In short, Granta will be hiring one person to fill the roles of both John Freeman and Philip Gwyn Jones; the new editor-in-chief will serve as editor of the magazine, Portabello Books, and Granta Books. This person’s job will be to maximize synergy, which is a great word and not at all a terrible and overused corporate cliche.

As we indicated in an earlier piece about the recent turmoil at Granta, this whole situation is strikingly similar to one the journal faced in 2009, when six staffers left and The Bookseller reported that “Granta‘s owner, millionaire philanthropist Sigrid Rausing, said at the time that she and husband Eric Abraham would be taking a more “hands-on” role in the enterprise.” Though surprising, Rausing’s increased role in the wake of recent changes at the journal is not unprecedented; that said, the fact that this is happening for the second time in four years may not speak well for Granta’s long-term stability.

Still, both the press release announcing Freeman’s departure and comments given by Jones to The Bookseller indicate that Granta is intent on telling the outside world that there’s nothing to see here, folks.

When Freeman left, Granta issued a release boasting that “the total global circulation of the magazine will be 100,000 when Japanase Granta begins publishing next March.” And Jones, who will be taking a “summer break in New England,” told The Bookseller yesterday that:

“For the first and only time in my life I feel like Sir Alex Ferguson. I am immensely proud of all the achievements of the Granta/Portobello team over these past eight years but most especially of the manner in which my team has played the publishing game.

I want to pay tribute to Sigrid for making it all possible, and allowing us such freedom and security. She is ready now to take over the running of the team, and I wish her all luck with this next phase in Granta’s illustrious history.

The squad is in really great shape, with some very exciting young talents coming through, authors and staff alike. As of today, nine different books of ours are on nine different prize shortlists, and there will be more to come later this year, I’m certain.”

And yet, all the recent turmoil—the flurry of departures, the closing of the New York office—suggests that everything is not fine and dandy, and that an increased need for “synergy” is not the only thing ailing Granta at the moment. A month ago it was record-breaking global circulation; yesterday it was vague talk of “economic realities” and a leaner, “synergized” staff. Whatever the truth is, it doesn’t look like Granta is telling.



Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.