10-year veteran hands reins to Brian Murray

Jane Friedman, whose long run atop HarperCollins was indelibly marked by her role in the Judith Regan-O.J. Simpson fiasco, has unexpectedly ankled the publishing house.

Word came Wednesday night that the 10-year Harper vet was stepping down and handing the reins to 41-year-old group publisher Brian Murray. On Thursday, the News Corp. publishing arm confirmed a new management structure, announcing Murray’s selection of Michael Morrison and Victoria Barnsley as key deputies.

Morrison will be prexy and publisher of general books in the U.S. and Canada, while Barnsley will be chief exec and publisher of the company’s U.K. and international ops. Both have been in the Harper fold for a number of years.

The news jolted the clubby book biz, especially with Friedman a notable presence at the annual U.S. trade show Book Expo held just last week in Los Angeles. Fellow attendees said she had not given any indication of the move.

“My 10 years at HarperCollins have been far and away the most rewarding of my career, and so it was not easy to make the decision to step down,” Friedman said in a statement.

“Jane has been a terrific leader who succeeded in attracting some of the world’s most brilliant authors while, at the same time, delivering record-breaking profits,” said News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch. “We are enormously grateful for her contributions over the past 10 years and understand her desire to seek new challenges at this point in her career.”

One author Friedman attracted, at least indirectly, was Simpson, whose quasi-confessional “If I Did It” was set up at Regan Books. A tie-in special on Fox created a firestorm of controversy, resulting not only in cancellation of the book on the eve of publication but the abrupt elimination of Regan’s entire division.

It was later established that Friedman was privy to Regan’s plans to publish and promote the book. Regan later won a sizable settlement from News Corp.

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