a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Trying to recapture the joy of reading


Ringing the changes at the Penguin office
Peter Mayer Publisher
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

Control of the unions was very strong at that, particularly at the NUJ level, and I found out that there was very, very poor attendance at meetings.  Somebody was always ill, somebody was always not feeling well, somebody always had to go to the doctor - we had our own doctor and sister - somebody was off in Ireland meeting an author, or in Paris having a meeting with a French publisher.  And so, I didn't know how to curtail this without becoming a snoop and asking for proof of this or that. So I made all meetings on Mondays and Fridays.  And the absenteeism went down unbelievably, because it was quite clear who wasn't there on Mondays and Fridays, who was extending their weekends.  And before too long, things regulated themselves very nicely.

I also discovered sometimes the phone would ring, all through the building.  Many different phones were ringing, and nobody would pick them up.  And I would ask someone, why is the phone ringing all the time, and nobody ever picks up?  He says, it's not my job.  And I said, well, whose job is it?  Well, it's so-and-so's, they're out to lunch.  Or so and so, they're ill.  So the phone just keeps ringing.  Well, whoever's ringing will call back.  So, I didn't know quite what to do.  I couldn't get anybody to pick up anybody else's phones.  Seemed to me to be civil.  You would do this for somebody, I thought.  But not in a union environment, or not in the union environment that existed at that time.

So I would run around the building every time I heard a phone ring incessantly, and I would start picking up the phones all over the building, but particularly, of course, on my floor which was the ground floor.  And I found out that it started to embarrass people to have the CEO pick up everybody's phones.  And soon they started picking up their own phones, or helping their buddies… and picking up the phone on the desk next to them and say, he'll call you back right after lunch or whatever, can I take a message?

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: National Union of Journalists

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015