Disney new HarperCollins 'general'

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Anthea Disney, a book-publishing outsider tapped as the new president-CEO at HarperCollins last week, must quickly jump-start the marketing drive for Rupert Murdoch's publishing giant.

With revenues of $1.3 billion, HarperCollins contributed 14% of News Corp.'s $9 billion in worldwide revenues in fiscal 1995, ended June 30. But while U.S. earnings were up 16% last year at News Corp., the book publishing operations were considerably weaker.

News Corp. Chairman Mr. Murdoch is betting Ms. Disney--an editorial leader inside his empire since 1989--can refashion her media skills and turn up the heat at HarperCollins.

Ms. Disney is being asked to do that by "creating compelling editorial product and marketing those books to the broad reading public," Mr. Murdoch said.

The British-born Ms. Disney, a petite dynamo known for her decisive management style, has shown her versatility before, holding posts in magazine and newspaper publishing, TV programming and online content packaging. She now moves from being an editorial visionary to a bottom-line executive.

MOVING UP

"She's a general now, not a captain or a lieutenant," said one News Corp. insider who has worked with Ms. Disney.

Her News Corp. career includes stints as editorial director of Murdoch Magazines, executive producer of "A Current Affair," editor in chief of TV Guide and most recently, editor in chief of the problem-plagued News Corp./MCI Internet Ventures. She began her career as a Fleet Street journalist and has also worked at the New York Daily News and such magazines as Self and US.

LOOKING FOR MORE HITS

The units now under Ms. Disney's command at HarperCollins are in a state of flux. Despite recent best sellers including Marc Eliot's "Kato Kaelin," Leon Uris' "Redemption" and the advice book "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," Mr. Murdoch is clearly hungry for more hits from a book company currently focused on the mass audience.

After News Corp. retreated from one cutthroat market last year by selling the educational group, including ScottForesman to Pearson in February for $580 million, many felt the handwriting was on the wall for Ms. Disney's predecessor, George Craig.

"He had built HarperCollins to be a broad-based publisher with a trade and educational wing," said one knowledgeable observer.

The public flap last spring over the advance paid to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich also weakened Mr. Craig's standing in the eyes of Mr. Murdoch. Some media observers, however, believe last week's move was rooted in hard-nosed fiscal realities.

"Her drill will be to produce better content for the books as well as to cut costs," said Steven Barlow, media analyst at Smith Barney.

Copyright March 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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