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Flamingo grounded

2 February 2004

This week brought the announcement from HarperCollins UK that its Flamingo list is to be merged into Fourth Estate, with the loss of two jobs, including that of the highly-regarded publishing director, Philip Gwyn Jones. This latest bit of corporate consolidation seems to be largely the result of the company’s recent decision to put all its paperback literary publishing into the new HarperPerennial list, which meant that Flamingo lost its own flourishing paperback line. But this is true globalisation – the move was brought about by the decision to use the Harper brand all over the world, whatever the local situation. Flamingo had built its reputation steadily, through publishing a distinguished list which included J G Ballard, Arundhati Roy, Philip Henscher and Magnus Mills. The name meant something to British readers.

And what of the 80 authors, and in particular those who have written the 28 titles scheduled for publication this year? With their consent they will be moved to Fourth Estate, and HarperCollins says: ‘We are working to make sure all authors are happy.’ But how can they be happy when they have lost their publishing imprint and, worse still, been deprived of their editor? And how can anyone believe that this won’t lead to cutbacks in the overall number of literary titles published by HarperCollins UK?

Random House, both in the UK and in the US, have taken a different approach and have on the whole tried to preserve their imprints, believing that small publishing units lead to strong publishing and that individual imprints can flourish within the corporate environment. The issue is very topical in both France and Germany, where small literary publishing houses and imprints have been bought and sold at an alarming speed over the last year or two. Even at a time when the corporations feel they have had their fingers burnt, publishing still has its kudos. But what about the poor authors? They will just have to hope that the Random House publishing model wins out, as the alternative is ever more consolidation and even fewer separate imprints publishing their own individual lists.