Penguin Random House & the Iowa State Education Association File Lawsuit Against the State of Iowa’s SF 496

Lawsuit Marks Historic Challenge to Protect the American Right to Disseminate, Receive, and Read Constitutionally Protected Books.

Plaintiffs Include Iowa State Education Association, an Iowa High School Student, Two Middle School Teachers, a K–12 District Librarian, and Four Bestselling and Critically Acclaimed Authors—Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Malinda Lo, and Jodi Picoult.

(New York, November 30, 2023)—Penguin Random House (PRH), alongside the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), has filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa challenging its recently enacted Senate File 496 (SF 496). PRH and ISEA are joined by four renowned authors whose books have been banned or removed in Iowa—Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak and Shout), John Green (Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars), Malinda Lo (Last Night at the Telegraph Club and A Scatter of Light), and Jodi Picoult (19 Minutes)—three educators, a high school student, and a parent. SF 496 was enacted in May 2023 and prohibits books featuring any description or visual depiction of sex—regardless of context—from public school and classroom libraries, covering students all the way through twelfth grade. SF 496 also prohibits books relating in any way to gender identity or sexual orientation from school and classroom libraries for students through sixth grade.  Both bans encompass fiction and non-fiction alike. The challenge will seek a court order blocking enforcement of the book ban provisions of SF 496. These restrictions violate the First Amendment free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees the right to read and to be read, to exchange ideas and viewpoints without unreasonable government interference. The new Iowa state law flouts this core principle of the Constitution with sweeping legislation that eliminates student access to books with ideas and perspectives disliked by state authorities. The lawsuit further contends that Iowa’s stated rationale for SF 496—protecting children from pornography—is a pretext and contrary to the definition of obscenity as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller vs. California (1973). The student plaintiff is a senior at Urbandale High School and, as a result of SF 496, cannot access books including The Color Purple and The Handmaid’s Tale. District librarian Mari Butler Abry and middle school teachers Alyson Browder and Daniel Gutmann have each been subjected to widespread removal of books from their school and classroom libraries. Making restricted books available to their students risks severe penalties for themselves and their districts. “Our mission of connecting authors and their stories to readers around the world contributes to the free flow of ideas and perspectives that is a hallmark of American democracy—and we will always stand by it,” says Nihar Malaviya, CEO, Penguin Random House. “We know that not every book we publish will be for every reader, but we must protect the right for all Americans, including students, parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians, to have equitable access to books and to continue to decide what they read.” SF 496 takes away the long-standing freedom of teachers and librarians to choose books for their libraries. Since enacted, SF 496 has resulted in chaos across the state as educators and school districts scramble to make sense of its vague, overbroad, and discriminatory rules in advance of its penalty provisions taking effect on January 1, 2024. Without clear guidance from the state, school districts are creating “Removal Lists” based on their own interpretations of SF 496. In Urbandale, Iowa, books prohibited from school and classroom libraries include Beloved, by Toni Morrison; Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison; The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison; Ulysses, by James Joyce; As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner; Forever, by Judy Blume; Push: A Novel, by Sapphire; The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood; and Native Son by Richard Wright. “This country has long upheld the principle that authors have the right to communicate their stories and ideas to the public, including students, and that students have a right to explore, choose, and learn from those books without discriminatory interference from the government,” says Anke Steinecke, EVP, Chief Legal Officer and General Council, Penguin Random House. “Statutes like SF 496 undermine these important rights and wrongfully subject librarians and educators and school districts to penalty just for doing their jobs.” “The professionals leading our classrooms, overseeing our libraries, and working with our students are trained in what is age-relevant and essential to include in our classrooms and on our shelves—determinations which are based on research and scientific understanding of developmentally appropriate concepts and ideas that best nurture and grow minds to successfully live in a democratic society and among other world populations,” said ISEA President Mike Beranek. “We stand firmly on the side of the experts in our schools and the parents supporting their children. We know parental choice and involvement are critical to a child’s success in school. We also know that there are systems in school districts across the state that specifically outline how a parent or guardian can object to their student participating or reading a book they feel is not appropriate for their child. We take issue with a law that also censors materials for everyone else’s child,” added Beranek. Penguin Random House is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by PEN America in Escambia County School District and School Board (FL) over unconstitutional book bans. The ISEA represents education professionals and employees in more than 300 school districts across the state. The plaintiffs are represented in the lawsuit by ArentFox Schiff LLP and Weinhardt Law. Contacts: Claire von Schilling, EVP & Director Corporate Communications & Social Responsibility, Penguin Random House Dominique Cimina, SVP, Publicity, Corporate Communications, & Author Brand Strategy, Random House Children’s Books 212-782-9314; Jean Hessburg, Public Relations Director, Iowa State Education Association 515-314-8799;


Penguin Random House, the world’s largest trade book publisher, is dedicated to its mission to ignite a universal passion for reading by creating books for everyone. The company, which employs more than 10,000 people globally, is owned by Bertelsmann. With more than 300 imprints and brands on six continents, Penguin Random House comprises adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction print and digital English, German, and Spanish-language trade book publishing businesses in more than 20 countries worldwide. With over 16,000 new titles and more than 700 million print, audio, and eBooks sold annually, Penguin Random House’s publishing lists include more than 80 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of the world’s most widely read authors. Iowa State Education Association represents preK-12 educators, education support professionals, community college faculty, Area Education Agency professionals, retired educators, and aspiring educators with contracts covering more than 50,000 employees. We promote quality public education by placing students at the center of everything we do while advocating for education professionals. ArentFox Schiff LLP With more than 600 lawyers and policy professionals, ArentFox Schiff LLP represents corporations, governments, private individuals, and trade associations. ArentFox Schiff has offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, and the firm provides strategic legal counsel to clients that range from Fortune 500 corporations and start-ups, to trade associations and foreign governments. As one of the most diverse general practice law firms in the country, ArentFox Schiff has roots in government service, a focus on legal excellence, and a commitment to the administration of justice. ArentFox Schiff has earned the distinction of being considered a premier law firm from The American Lawyer, Chambers USA, and Legal 500.  

Ishan Dhar, Assistant Manager - AMS, PRH India & Southeast Asia

With the number of great books that we publish every month, it is important to understand and decide how to use our resources efficiently to market our titles. Researching the marketplace is the first step in order to know how consumers shop for books: keywords, click rates, searches, and other important buying behaviours.

All this information is helpful in positioning the books. We need to understand how our customers are searching for books—be it the book’s title, author's name or by genre—and target them accordingly. In a world where most consumers are shopping online, it is critical that we analyze our competition well and then play to our strengths. Unlike most industries, book sales are driven by trends and moments that could be as short as a day. It is important to predict and capture those trends and moments to provide our readers with the books they're looking for. As an example, we have seen how certain genres pick up during certain times: Feel-good books are more in demand around Christmas and end of the year and romance titles sell particularly well during Valentine's week. As the leading publishing house in the country, we are in the lucky situation to offer our readers the widest, most diverse selection of content. ENT OF ALL SKIES by Vincent C. Sales is a mythological Filipino fantasy published by Penguin Random House SEA, which we also marketed in the U.S. It was important to first understand the author’s profile in the country and then build on from there. Since the title was no published in the United States, we looked at the market of similar books in this genre and then targeted people who are searching with a discovery intent. We positioned our book with comparable titles and used the pull for those to build visibility for our book. With the help of the marketing and publicity teams, we got the word out through influencers, reviewers, and bloggers. This approach ultimately led readers to search for the book and take the next steps!  

Rinjini Mitra, Publicist, Penguin Random House India

Rinjini Mitra (r) with author Durjoy Datta.

When I started working with one of our most popular romance author, Durjoy Datta, on his upcoming book, WHEN I AM WITH YOU, I had the most unique experience and wholesome experience as a marketer.

To be innovative and creative in an utterly cluttered space—especially with Durjoy being a brand author for a decade and delivering nineteen best-selling novels—was quite a challenge. Moreover, a post-pandemic, changed marketplace with evolving behavioral patterns needed to be considered as well.

Deep diving into the author’s social media personality and understanding his target audience became my key. From crowd sourcing book design covers through Durjoy’s Instagram profile, to conducting fun activities like asking the readers to guess the title of the book, to eventually revealing the cover with a huge bang, we kickstarted the marketing campaign on social media that resulted in magnificent buzz of over 3,000 pre-orders. We opened at #3 overall on the Nielsen charts and within top 10 on Amazon, and continued to be a best-seller in many categories. Leveraging Durjoy Datta's significant following, we focused on digital activations in the initial phase. Over the next few months, we had regular on-the-go brainstorm sessions with Durjoy to create unique and interesting content to promote his title and engage audiences through his profile. Identifying the author’s top performing markets—both in retail and on Amazon—and then conceptualising, strategising, and executing a 20-city book tour across India was our big plan! Brand partnerships for Durjoy’s travel; coordination with bookstores and internal sales teams; amplifying the outreach through bookstagrammers, media, and user-generated content led to never-seen-before turnouts in each of the cities. The retail outlets, which had suffered a hit during the pandemic, were excited to host Durjoy and receive a great footfall. It is also heartwarming to witness how readers across the country have been pouring out their love for Durjoy and his books, thanking Penguin for bringing their favourite author to the cities! That’s the power of the world of books! While working on the marketing campaign rigorously for months and managing many other titles alongside, I couldn’t have imagined for the book tour to come alive in this extraordinary way. But the best reward was when Durjoy attributed the book and tour’s success to me, even though he was the one travelling to a new city daily for a month, engaging with his audience!

Barbara Scheuer, Overall Production Manager & Environmental Officer

In production, we work as an interface between the editors, product management, commercial staff, and sales. We turn the final manuscript into the finished book—physically and as an e-book. This job requires organizational talent, structured work, a high level of technical know-how, and creativity in equal measure.

The producers pour the content into the form. They are responsible for the choice of typeface, layout, format, materials, and finishes. We advise marketing and editorial staff on the appropriate layout and cover design for the respective target groups. Each manufacturer oversees many different books in parallel, for which it organizes production, i.e. ensures that the schedule is adhered to, and coordinates every detail with the various service providers. The production department is responsible, for example, for commissioning typesetters, litho companies, and printers. Paper purchasing and basic printing negotiations take place centrally for all publishers in our publishing group. We have standards and framework agreements for many book formats, so that the majority of our books can be produced quickly and efficiently. However, there are also special projects that are planned and designed completely individually. This is where the manufacturer can get creative: our consulting expertise is in demand when it comes to format, material selection, and finishing. A very special example is the magnificent volume of "It" on the occasion of Stephen King's 75th birthday. For this lavish new edition, we engaged a well-known illustrator, and developed the design and finishing concept together with a designer.  On the basis of various material samples, production, and editing jointly selected which material, colors, and components would best suit the book and target group—we are always working within the conflicting priorities of cost, time, sustainability, and effect. Many production steps also take place almost invisibly in the background, but are just as important. In particular, the optimization of digital processes as well as the maintenance and editing of data and metadata have become indispensable in order to produce efficiently and on time and also to create accessible digital products. Additionally, sustainability has long played a major role in the production of our books, and is therefore traditionally located in manufacturing. The use of environmentally friendly papers and low-pollutant, recyclable materials are core components of our daily work. We are constantly testing new materials for use in our books and advising our colleagues in the editorial and sales departments, as well as our authors. I'm very pleased to see how much this topic has become part of our colleagues' minds. Furthermore, we are always educating ourselves so that we can continue to give our authors' stories the most beautiful packaging.

Annette Danek, EVP & Chief Supply Chain Officer, Penguin Random House

The Penguin Random House U.S. supply chain has become widely recognized as the trade-publishing industry’s gold standard, for its speed and reliability.

Our supply chain is comprised of books and book-related processes, physical and digital, orders, and payment from our bookseller customers. Once books are printed and bound by outside printers, they are received and stored in one of our four distribution centers located across the country. Books are packed in full carton and loose locations. Once an order is received and processed via customer service or EDI order processing, our floor staff picks, packs, and ships the requested titles to our customers. So, we need inventory, and we need orders—which we receive hourly from multiple national accounts and local independent booksellers. The inventory and amount of orders we receive dictate our long-term warehouse size, locations, capabilities, employee count, and the shifts our staff work in each center. As the EVP & Chief Supply Chain Officer, I have the privilege of leading more than 2,000 colleagues in our Westminster, Crawfordsville, Reno, and Hampstead fulfillment centers, from which I direct a massive, cross-functional, end-to-end North American and international supply chain—shipping two-million books worldwide daily. Together with Sales, my team and I also have developed numerous innovative programs that benefit our retail customers, such as the two-day rapid shipments for the year-end holidays, and beyond. While most of our customers follow our standard processes, there are some accounts that are managed by the Special Markets Sales teams that require special handling and administration. Our largest special market account by far is The Dollywood Foundation, inspired by Dolly Parton, who operate the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library® program. This year, Imagination Library reached a new milestone where 10% of all children under five-years-old in the U.S receive a monthly book from Imagination Library. The team, led by Lisa Vitelli in the Special Markets division, is responsible for working with The Dollywood Foundation's committee, who annually select the books that are shipping to the children each month. These customized children’s books are stored in the Crawfordsville, Indiana, distribution center. The fulfillment teams have worked to precisely time the picking and shipping of those books to The Dollywood Foundation's mailing house. We label the pallets in a special way for the mailing house so that they can efficiently receive in, store, and ultimately process over two million books each month. As Imagination Library aspires to continue to grow, we will need to increase our space requirements, readjust our transportation methods, and modify our picking and shipping processes. We look forward to the challenge. I am holding up the book THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD as that is the first book a child receives when they are enrolled in the Imagination Library program. The Dollywood Foundation purchases nearly 500,000 of them annually. We are proud to support this important cause and do our part to increase literacy in our country.
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Effy Ai, Legal Specialist, PRH China

Supervising and managing contract projects are my core responsibilities. This means the planning, reviewing, negotiating, and administrating of contracts. It may sound humdrum, but it’s quite demanding.

Most contracts are about copyright purchasing and local publishing. I help minimize any legal, potential risks, and maximize the commercial benefits. As part of my role, I monitor the essential decision-making process of every particular project. I also ensure that we archive digital and hard copies of every contract after they have been signed by the respective parties.

The Penguin Chinese Ink Painting series is one of our highlights this year. The set includes three books, telling three different little stories in classical Chinese with traditional Chinese ink painting illustrations. The most remarkable part is that each story is written by the Chinese characters with the same pronunciation. If you read it in mandarin, you will only distinguish the meaning based on different tones, which shows excellent literary value. The author’s sophisticated language skills made these books fun and educated. Since it is an original project, it will face more complex and changeable situations when determining the business model and drafting the contract. My colleagues reached the agreement on the core business articles through several rounds of negotiation. Since this project differs from most of our routine tasks, the standard contract templates couldn’t be applied to our agreement. With the advice of an external lawyer, I drafted a new license purchase contract according to the situation. As the project involved multi-party cooperation, it is more complicated and challenging for legal work. We must confirm whether the proven materials are binding and executing, determining whether the complete copyright can be granted to us without potential defects. I’m still on the road of learning, and would love to interact with other colleagues in the contract departments in different regions.

Bhavna Chauhan, Editorial Director, Doubleday Canada

As the Editorial Director of commercial publishing at Doubleday Canada, I oversee and articulate a clear vision for the commercial titles in our program, focusing particularly on genre fiction (thrillers, romance, book club fiction, and mysteries), as well as memoirs by big names.

As an avid reader of these kinds of books (I grew up on Marian Keyes, Emily Giffin, and Luanne Rice), I want to create a publishing home for writers (particularly those who identify as BIPOC) who are living and creating in these spaces; a home where each book is considered holistically and singularly in its publication, fuelled by a marriage of editorial support, strong collaboration with our authors, marketing ingenuity, intelligent market research, and a commitment to consistent post-mortems on our publishing efforts. Part of this approach is thinking beyond our traditional readership and finding a new one: meeting readers where they’re hanging out these days, be that on Instagram, or TikTok, or on Spotify listening to podcasts. Over the last year, one of the books I’ve been working on is Two for the Road, a rom-com by Toronto writer and TV personality Chantel Guertin. This is the second in a two-book deal, and we’re publishing it on the heels of a soft sales track for her first book, which went on sale in the middle of the pandemic. In publishing Chantel’s new novel—which, truly, has all the captivating rom-com tropes you can imagine, all in perfect harmony—we’ve had to examine our efforts for her first book and have some honest conversations about what worked and what didn’t: where we missed the mark and how we can use those insights to sharpen our approach on her new publication. So, for Two for the Road, with the insights and skills of virtually every team in the building, we’re now planning a publication campaign that feels one-of-a-kind and nuanced, targeting all the areas that we missed with the first book. We’re leaning deeply into all we know about the rom-com category, what’s working right now, and positioning the book exactly for our market here in Canada; we’ve given the book a different title from our publishing partner in the US, as well as a cover designed precisely for this readership. In terms of marketing, we’re capitalizing on certain themes in the book (like the English countryside setting and road trips) and leveraging our author’s platform to help broaden the book’s reach. And, my favourite: we’re in the process of finalizing a preorder campaign that will treat readers to two audio chapters of a fictional novel that the protagonist in Two for the Road reads in the book. It’s not just a fun bonus for those who preorder, but it’s also an interesting project for our fantastic audio department, which has been producing some amazing work. (photo credit: Ketan Manohar)  

Sofía Lecumberri López, National Sales Director, PRHGE

Sofía Lecumberri with Arturo Pérez Reverte

As Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial’s National Sales Director, I have the considerable responsibility for setting and leading the trade-marketing strategies, implementations, and distribution, as well as the monthly sales budget, for our publishing programs in Spain. It has been a terrific opportunity for me to engage interactively with our publishing colleagues about the books that inspire their passion, and with our booksellers and salespeople, to bring these titles to readers across the country.

It was a particular pleasure last September for me to oversee the sales launch of “Revolution,” the newest work by one of our biggest-selling authors, Arturo Pérez Revert, who is one of the world’s bestselling Spanish-language storytellers—and a personal reading favorite of many us at the company. It's a coming-of-age novel set partly against the backdrop of the Mexican revolution. To enhance the engagement of independent bookstores and major accounts we organized an exclusive presentation for these clients with the author at the Casa de México in Madrid (which is part of the Mexican Embassy). The author introduced the 35 booksellers in attendance to his novel and spoke to them about the most important points for selling the novel. Afterwards, he had a conversation with the booksellers and signed copies exclusively for them.

Caroline Purslow, Sales Director, DK Asia

I work in DK’s International Publishing & Licensing (IPL) team in London. As a team we oversee sales of DK books both in translation, partnering with local co-edition publishers and distributors, as well as English language export sales out of the UK and US warehouses. Specifically, I am responsible for DK sales in Asia, with a team based in London, as well as Beijing, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Together we work with local publishers, retailers and distributors to bring our DK books to readers across the region.

This year we have had particular success across Asia with THE NATURAL HISTORY BOOK—not only has it sold over half a million copies in China this year, but it has lifetime sales across our global translation territories of almost 3 million copies and is published in territories as far apart as Argentina, Iceland, Spain and Vietnam. It’s especially rewarding to see a title like this published across so many territories (21 and counting), as for each new title DK publishes, the IPL team feed back to our editorial team on the content and structure of the book, bringing in feedback from our international partners to help shape and create the best book on the subject. This title took around 3 years to create and can take even longer to translate. So, when it finally hits the shelves, you have a great sense of satisfaction. THE NATURAL HISTORY BOOK is now on its 2nd edition in the English language. Each new update gives us a chance to reposition the title internationally, and as a team we collaborate to build international co-edition print runs so we can print as many editions and in as many languages as possible at one time. IPL works closely with the local publishers in each market to provide production, marketing and sales support. Our particular success in China this year has been down to the marketing initiatives to help drive the sales. This includes working with our local publishing partner and local KOL’s on Dou Yin (the Chinese Tik Tok platform) who live stream educational content using The Natural History Book and selling copies directly from the platform during the streams. During just one weekend of these live streams, over 40,000 copies were sold!  

Heidi Camilleri, Marketing, Penguin Books Australia

I look after the In Market-team, which is a multidisciplinary team of marketers, publicists, and a designer. We manage campaigns for bestselling backlist across international and local publishing, new releases published under the Penguin Publishing Lab imprint (a local imprint specialising in authors with built-in digital audiences), and opportunity titles as identified by data. We are responsible for all Penguin-branded activity, including promotional campaigns at key sales periods such as Christmas.

The In Market-team works at two key paces: always-on and opportunity-based. The always-on campaigns carry out our year-long strategy for bestselling backlist titles and series, whereas we approach opportunities reactively. A great benefit in working this way is the ease with which we can double down on opportunities by effeciently transitioning them to an always-on campaign. Best of all, we can use the data collected during the opportunity phase to guide further marketing and publicity decisions. WHY HAS NOBODY TOLD ME THIS BEFORE by Dr. Julie Smith is an example of this approach. Originally published in January 2022, this practical and positive toolkit for better mental health struck a chord with Australian audiences. A burst of local media interviews aligned with Mental Health Awareness Week in May shot the book up into the Amazon top 10, and by June we were doubling down on this title. Working closely with Sales and Digital Sales colleagues in the weekly Data Informed Opportunities-meeting, we identified a cross-format tipping point. Audiobook sales exceeded the physical sales by over 40%. We also identified high reader and listener engagement through positive reviews online. As this kind of sales pattern and audio review engagement was last identified on the phenomenally successful ATOMIC HABITS, we devised a marketing and publicity approach to specifically convert Dr. Julie Smith readers to the physical format to grow market share and saturate mass retailers. We rolled out podcast advertising, Google Display Network digital advertising, and META dynamic display advertising. By updating the Amazon A+ assets, we were able to increase conversions from 6% to 14%. We took this optimisation learning to other retailer websites and our own. Throughout August, Dr. Julie Smith’s digital presence exploded, and a TikTok video on depression amassed 16 million views (her highest to date). Weekly tracking of her TikTok hashtag views showed sustained growth. In response, In Market-team switched from marketing to publicity to localise this international attention. September was the strongest sales month for the book since publication, and we continued to increase promotions with a major online native content partnership and digital display advertising. To date, we have generated over 1 million impressions through our digital advertising campaigns and reprinted the book six times. Looking forward, WHY HAS NOBODY TOLD ME THIS BEFORE will be a lead title in our Christmas campaign, with out-of-home digital screens, digital display, and native content advertising. At the beginning of 2023, we will be cementing the title as the ultimate way to kick off a new year of better mental health. It has been wonderful to work on driving awareness and sales for a book with such a positive message and genuine impact on readers!