Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Random Penguin Publishing Merger

IT’S official,” Alfred A. Knopf Sr. tweeted last week. “We’re now #PenguinRandomHouse.”  (By the way, mr. Knopf Sr. died in 1984.)That's the start of an op-ed article, Book Publishing's Big Gamble in the New York Times about the recent merger between Penguin and Random House (“the world’s first truly global trade book publishing company”)

 "This merger ........shrinks the Big Six, which publish about two-thirds of books in the United States, down to the Big Five........... This creation  is partly a response to unprecedented pressures on these “legacy” publishers — especially from Amazon, which came out on the winning end of an antitrust lawsuit over the setting of e-book prices. It is also a way to gain leverage and capital in an industry that has been turned upside down. This endgame may be inevitable, but its consequences can’t be ignored."
The writer Boris Kachka, a contributing editor at New York Magazine and an author,  continues..........

"....So many books are published — almost certainly, more than ever — that predicting a blanket decline in quality would be ridiculous. But whether literary culture is best served by the ceaseless centralization of publishing is a question worth asking.  
The Big Five have been so busy reducing old companies to brands that they’ve neglected the notion of what a brand should mean. Can any reader tell a Pantheon from a Riverhead novel? The logo doesn’t do the trick. The value of a publishing house — and now an imprint — has been its function as that dreaded straw man of the self-publishing gurus: a gatekeeper. In the hoary Model T days, gatekeepers weren’t a cabal but a cacophony, competing tooth and nail.       
Maybe it’s time for publishers to revive the value of their brands by making them more distinctive and connecting them more closely to consumers. They can start by checking out the Web site of the codgers at the prestigious Farrar, Straus & Giroux, independent until it was bought in 1994 by Holtzbrinck (which later bought Macmillan and grouped its American holdings under that name). Its e-newsletter features author interviews, long editors’ notes and subscriber giveaways. One of its developers, Ryan Chapman (now at Atavist, a multimedia storytelling site), told me his model was independent record labels.
We could use more gatekeepers — the kind that trumpet their history and quality unapologetically. “A new imprint on a book gathers character through the years,” declared the first sentence of the first catalog printed by Farrar, Straus in 1946. But an old imprint, once merged, tends to lose it. Even Penguin and Random House aren’t immune. Their temporary new logo — a giant penguin looking away from a house — is an awkward amalgam, a glyphic non sequitur. It’s a necessary visual compromise, a show of mutual respect for two distinctive histories. But maybe Random Penguin, as a few wags have suggested, would have been a more apt name."
Mr. Kachka doesn't seem very hopeful about the consequences of this merger. Generally, the financial outlook for mergers is not very promising, as for example BusinessWeek once had researched. However, in this case there are not only investors and executives involved, but in this people business also tons of editors, other publishing staff and last but not least the many authors. Let's see how they will fare through the changes in this new chapter in the history of publishing. 

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