Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Book Report: Random Penguin?

There are reports all over the interwebs that publishing mega-companies Penguin Books and Random House are considering a merger. This would reduce the number of major international publishers from 6 to 5, and give the new merged mega-publisher control of approximately 25% of the US/UK book market.

They say it's to deal with rapid shifts in the market caused by the rise of Amazon, and e-books being read on devices iPads, Kobos, and Kindles.

I think the key reason  they're having trouble competing is because they're already so effing huge and unwieldy. The publishing industry, especially the mega-pubs are even worse than the major studios when it comes to operating quickly and efficiently, or being able to deal with change.

Here's what I think will happen:

1. A lot fewer books will be coming out of any new Random Penguin Company.

The first instinct of a freshly merged company is to start slashing and burning to pay for the money spent on the merger. That means they'll probably be firing or laying off editors and other staffers, and will most likely reduce their output of books in any format to the numbers roughly equivalent to the output of just one of the original companies.

Authors on the so-called "mid-list" who sell, but not on New York Times best-seller levels will probably also be dropped because...

2. Publishing will become even more "celebrity" and fad obsessed than it already is.

I've been noticing a trend in bookstores where more and more books are being "written" by celebrities whether they have a story to tell or not. Sometimes these book deals are part of the complex machinations of the publisher's parent company, but most of the time it's a desperate attempt to prove that because someone, or something is famous people will buy books associated with them.

This has taken many forms. There are the big money deals for autobiographies, essay collections, or works of fiction by celebrities, to actor Johnny Depp getting his own publishing imprint at rival mega-pub HarperCollins to pump out books about Beat Poets and folk singers, to another publisher releasing the autobiography of Uggie, the dog from 2011 Oscar winner The Artist.

Because you know that the people who loved the movie The Artist are just dying to read a book allegedly written by the dog.  

Now the publishing industry won't tell anyone just how many of these celebrity projects make back the massive advances they pay out. I suspect that very few of them really pay off, but just enough of them succeed to keep the industry hurling money at people just because their name seems vaguely familiar to marketing focus groups.

As for those who actually write as a vocation, expect only the major superstar best-sellers to keep their place at the table. But this leads to a trap.

Sure, they're prolific and best selling authors now, but sooner or later that's going to end. Either they drop dead, stop writing, or eventually lose their mojo with the book-buying public.

Since the industry's already set up to keep the discovery of anything or anyone new an extremely rare million to one shot replacing established stars will become tricky. So there will be scrambles to cash in on passing fads that will be exponentially more intense than they are now.

Oversized mega-corporations are not creators of new trends, they can only follow.

3. More and more publishing mega-mergers will come.

In the end, there can be only one.

Then it will collapse in on itself.

Then new smaller, more efficient, companies will rise to pick up the slack in the market thanks to advances in sales and distribution.

Then they will grow fat, inefficient, and slow. Then they will start merging, until there is only one, and the cycle will begin again.

It's the circle of life! 


Speaking of books, why don't you buy my e-book Studio Notes for Literary Classics for your Kindle or iPad for only $2.99.

Over 200 entertaining, enlightening, and enraging nuggets that will give you a taste of what it would have been like if the great works of literary history had to deal with the meddling that goes into the making of modern movies.

Give it as a gift that will amaze your friends, worry your family, and help a struggling author survive this age of mergers and celebrity madness.

If I sell over a thousand of these I will stop bugging you.

Until then I will be relentless.

1 comment:

  1. What, no nook?

    Rainforest Giant