Penguin and Indigo see (RED)

December 1, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

December 1 is World AIDS Day, and to mark the occasion, the country’s largest bookseller has teamed up with one of the world’s most recognizable publishers to promote a new line of classic novels that will help battle HIV/AIDS in Africa. Indigo Books and Music has signed on to sell special (RED) editions of 16 Penguin Classics titles. Fifty percent of profits from the (RED) editions will go directly to the Global Fund to eliminate AIDS in Africa.

The special (RED) editions have been repackaged with newly commissioned cover art. The traditional black has been replaced with red, and the covers employ words and phrases taken from the books.

Indigo CEO Heather Reisman is quoted in a press release from Penguin Canada:

Penguin Classics have captured the imagination of millions of readers around the world for generations, transforming the way people think, feel, and read forever. The message of this campaign is that these great books still have power to change lives – and, literally, to save lives.

The sixteen titles in the campaign are:

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Lady with a Little Dog and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
  • Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot
  • Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
  • Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackerey
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Indigo has an exclusive licence to sell these titles until January 31, 2011. After that, the special editions will be rolled out to the trade, according to Yvonne Hunter, vice president, publicity and marketing at Penguin Canada.

More details emerge about Davidar’s departure from Penguin

June 12, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Details are starting to seep out about David Davidar’s abrupt departure from the CEO position at Penguin Canada earlier this week. Although neither Davidar nor Penguin Group chairman John Makinson admitted as much when the public announcement was made on June 8, it appears that Davidar was asked to leave the company a month ago and it was agreed at the time that both parties would publicly state that the departure was voluntary. As if that wasn’t sketchy enough, news broke yesterday that Penguin’s former rights and contracts manager, Lisa Rundle, has filed a sexual harassment claim against Davidar and a wrongful termination claim against Penguin.

The Globe and Mail has released details of Rundle’s claim, which asks for $523,000 in damages – $423,000 from Penguin for wrongful termination and $100,000 from Davidar personally. According to the Globe, Rundle alleges that Davidar’s harassment occurred over a period of three years, culminating in an all-out assault in Rundle’s hotel room during last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair:

The accusations are accompanied by quotations from several e-mail messages Mr. Davidar allegedly sent to Ms. Rundle during the period in question. Last year, he is said to have written that he “could do very little except think of [Ms. Rundle],” that she was “utterly gorgeous,” “a vision in pink sipping a champagne cocktail,” and that she should not be “stubborn” or “fight” him.

“Davidar over time became more and more intense with his persistent protestations of lust and desire for Lisa,” according to the claim, “and in return she became increasingly disturbed and afraid.”

The harassment allegedly culminated in an outright assault at the Frankfurt Book Fair last October when, according to the claim, Mr. Davidar appeared at Ms. Rundle’s hotel room door, “wearing excessive cologne, with buttons on his shirt undone down his waist.”

The statement of claim goes on to say that Davidar entered Rundle’s room against her wishes and forcibly kissed her.

In a statement released (somewhat stealthily) yesterday afternoon, Penguin Canada’s vice-president of marketing and publicity, Yvonne Hunter, denied Rundle’s assertion that she was terminated, saying that she left the company voluntarily:

Ms. Rundle was not terminated by Penguin Canada, but rather she advised the company of her decision to leave after having declined to pursue other career opportunities within the organization.

For his part, Davidar claims in a press release to be “disappointed” that Penguin issued a public statement about the pending litigation and denies the allegations contained in Rundle’s claim:

I had a friendship with my colleague which lasted for three years. I am utterly shocked by the allegations. I am dismayed that Penguin Canada chose to respond to them by directing me to leave Penguin. I intend to defend the allegations vigorously in the courts, and I am certain that the truth will prevail.

Any way this story is parsed, it ends up reflecting badly on everyone involved. The fact that Penguin decided to attempt a cover-up about the real reasons for Davidar’s departure is sleazy in the extreme, and not terribly bright in any event (they must have known that the truth would come out the minute Rundle filed her claim, unless they thought they could somehow prevent her from doing so, which would be even worse). Rundle’s allegations have yet to be proven in court, and it seems odd that she would wait so long to file the claim, only doing so three days after Davidar’s public announcement of his departure. Her reasons for proceeding this way are her own, although it is not difficult to see how someone who experienced the kind of harassment and assault described in her affidavit could feel legitimately angry at the prospect of those events getting whitewashed in an attempt to save corporate face.

As for Davidar himself, this is one of the fastest and most dramatic tumbles from grace in recent memory. Only last year, he was tapped to head Penguin International, a new division that would oversee the company’s activities in South Africa, India, and the Middle East. Speculation ran rife at the time that Davidar was being groomed as Makinson’s successor. Now all of that is in tatters.

This entire story leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and it’s obviously too early to understand who’s at fault and who’s not. Hunter’s press release and Rundle’s affidavit are clearly contradictory: somebody is lying, and it will in all likelihood be a protracted and painful experience trying to figure out who that someone is. In the meantime, we can do little more that wait and watch this sad, sordid story unfold.

There’s more to Davidar’s departure than previously reported

June 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Earlier this week, the surprise departure of David Davidar as CEO of Penguin Canada threw the publishing world into a tizzy. In a Globe and Mail article published this past Wednesday, books columnist John Barber wrote that the “tight-knit Canadian publishing industry roiled with speculation and dismay” at the news. Davidar, who was in the CEO’s chair when the company published its first Scotiabank Giller Prize–winner, Joseph Boyden’s novel Through Black Spruce, and when it debuted its prestige fiction line, Hamish Hamilton Canada, told the Globe that his departure had been “under discussion for months.” When asked by Quill & Quire why he was leaving now, Daivdar responded, “Principally, I wanted to [return to] my writing. I’ve got about six chapters of a new novel done. I wrote my previous two novels while I was working, and I wanted to see if I could give this one [a better] shot if I didn’t have a day job to go to. So my plan is to take at least a year to see if I can finish the novel.”

Well, it turns out that the situation might not be so cut and dried. According to an article published today on Publishers Weekly‘s website, Davidar faces sexual harassment charges filed by ex-colleague Lisa Rundle:

With questions swirling in Canada about the surprise resignation of Penguin Canada president David Davidar, the company issued a statement Friday afternoon announcing that Penguin’s former rights and contracts director Lisa Rundle charged Davidar with sexual harassment in an action yesterday. The statement added that Davidar was asked to leave the company last month, and while it had been unclear just when Davidar’s resignation, announced Tuesday, would become effective, Penguin said he will have no further involvement with the company.

The PW article also indicates that Rundle has filed a wrongful termination claim against Penguin.

Needless to say, this news is bound to send shockwaves through the Canadian publishing industry, and will only exacerbate the pain that Penguin was feeling this week as a result of its corporate announcement that Penguin Canada staff would henceforth report to David Shanks, head of Penguin USA in New York (something that Jackie Kaiser, a former Penguin staffer and current literary agent with the Westwood Agency told the Globe “does not reflect well on Penguin”). Whether Rundle’s complaint has merit, or is merely the product of a disgruntled ex-employee, has yet to be seen, and it should be noted that both PW and the Globe indicate that the suit was filed only on Thursday. However, Penguin’s decision to release this information on a Friday afternoon in June, when most of the publishing and media industries have summer hours, is disingenuous at best. It seems like a poor attempt to bury an unpleasant story – an attempt that has already proven futile.