Senior staff desert as owner Sigrid Rausing takes much greater control of literary magazine and publisher

A slew of high-profile departures from the prestigious literary magazine and publisher Granta have left staff reeling as owner and philanthropist Sigrid Rausing steps up to take full control of the company.

Over the past month, Granta Magazine editor John Freeman and deputy editor Ellah Allfrey have both resigned. Its art director and associate editor are also leaving. Earlier this week, Philip Gwyn Jones, Granta’s books publisher, said he was quitting, and further departures are possible.

The situation was described by one insider as a “total shit-storm”, and by another as a “complete bloody disaster”. It is understood to boil down to a desire by Granta’s owner to save money, as the company continues to make a loss.

“I really don’t understand what is happening here,” said the Booker prize-winning novelist Peter Carey, a contributor to the magazine. “I always assumed the owners were prepared to fund Granta out of love for literature. They got in good people and published good books, and underwrote a fabulous magazine — all regardless (obviously) of profit or loss — and then suddenly there’s this purge.

“Maybe they don’t know whether they want to run it for its own sake or to make money. Very strange.” The changes have perplexed the literary community, coming as the magazine had recently announced its Best of Young British Novelists list, and has plans for new international editions.

Recent publicity has not all been positive, however. The novelists list received mixed reviews, Mr. Freeman was criticised for saying Leeds was “out of the literary world” and the party organised to celebrate the issue’s launch was so poorly organised Granta had to issue an apology.

Mr. Freeman said in an emailed statement that “Sigrid decided a while back she wanted to run the magazine and books on a very reduced staff”, and that he “didn’t want to be part of that change”.

The new structure will see Ms. Rausing take over “full operational and executive control of the company”, with the roles of magazine editor and books executive publisher “to be merged into the new single editorial-only role of editor-in-chief, a position that will be filled later this summer”, said Granta. The editor-in-chief will edit the magazine and commission books for the Granta and Portobello imprints.

Gwyn Jones, who declined to comment about the reasons for his departure, said in a statement that Ms. Rausing “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”.

Ms. Rausing said: “People have left for different reasons, not all of them related... Publishing is going through rocky times — we are lucky because I can afford the subsidy, which means that we can do things that maybe harder for other publishers.

“The magazine I don’t think will ever be profitable, but I am certainly hoping that the book side will make money.” — © Guardian News & Media 2013

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