A place where my thoughts congregate

Random Penguin House (Or an Igloo in the middle of nowhere)

Somewhere in the middle of last week I started hearing rumblings in the book world. Rumblings that heralded big change in the way the publishing industry works. Rumblings that would change lives. Obviously I am referring to the merger of Random House and Penguin. Bertelsman (Who owns Random) and Pearson (the holding company of Penguin) have come to an agreement that would put the new combined publishing empire in charge of roughly 25% of the book published in the UK and US.

Immediately the book industry went abuzz. Being a friend and follower of many an author (friend in real life and follower on social media, obviously. I’m not a creep) theirs were the first voices to speak up. Jane Yolen probably summed it up best:

Here are my questions, which probably are unanswerable at this time:

1. Will Philomel, Dutton, Viking, Random etc. remain distinct entities? Will they–as in the past–make their own publishing decisions or follow the Harper model whereby a mss. offered to one imprint/one editor and turned down in considered rejected by all imprints. For authors this is a biggie because it has to do with the available market possibilities for any one manuscript.

2. Will the smaller books be even more marginalized than now, since they will be fighting for recognition from the marketing, publicity, and sales departments that are handling double the numbers of books than before. And as a corollary, will the sales department focus even more on big books when they speak to bookstores, WalMart, etc.?

3. Will the individual imprints’ distinctive voices be subsummed in the behemoth?

You can see where I fear this is going. Even I feel nervous. Big is not necessarily better for the midlist.

Now, I do not know Jane personally, nor have I ever read any of her books but she voices concerns spoken and felt by many authors.

It is already true that publisher budgets are stretched thin – hell, everyone’s is – and the first people to feel it were the mid-list authors. More and more the money available for the promotion of books is allocated to surefire authors, so unless you can guarantee them a bestseller, chances are that you will see very little hooplah around these authors.

Midlist authors are only slightly better off than self-published authors and if you fall into any of these two camps you have to know how to market yourself.

The best thing to happen to the publishing industry since the advent of the printing press

In my opinion, even if Jane’s worst fears come true, this Random Penguin merger is the best thing to happen to the publishing industry in years. It is also the publishing industry’s first strike back at the (now very real) threat of digital and Amazon.

In recent years we have seen an influx of books that made it big after becoming an epublishing or self-published phenomenon. EL James of 50 Shades of Grey infamy was picked up by Random House for a multi-million Pound deal after her erotic “novel” became a raging success only surpassed by the raging hormones of its readers.

Amanda Hocking made a name for herself after selling a million copies of her self-published series form her bedroom. Cassandra Clare made it big after being discovered on fanfiction sites and the list goes on and on.

What Random Penguin House get to do now is let ebooks sift through the slushpile by letting every Tom, Dick and Harry that thinks he (she) can write a book publish electronically. All they have to do is monitor the sales and trends and once an ebook reaches a point where it looks economically viable for print, approach an author and make them an offer they can’t refuse.

This will obviously not sit well with a lot of people, booksellers and publishers included, but it does give the printed book back the status that it so rightly deserve (even if that status is driven by consumerism). It will put the faith back into the physical book industry whereby every consumer will know that a book worth printing on paper, is a book worth owning.

This is not to say that they should completely abandon the current model, not by any means. All that I am suggesting is that this is not as bad as people would like to make it out. If you as an author have the ability to write a bestselling novel, prove it and be published in a physical book.

So who loses?

I can see two groups of people who’d be badly affected should things happen as I predict.

Firstly, consumers. People all have specialties, and if an author’s is writing, but not necessarily marketing, then we have a problem. If the ebook doesn’t sell, then it will never get published as a physical book and many people might miss out on it.

Secondly, retailers. Retailers who rely on physical book sales to keep their businesses afloat will lose out if they do not have a strong representation in the ebook market, which means that they will lose out on the initial sales. Indies will be particularly hard-hit with this.

At the end of the day this is all speculation based on limited facts. Although it would make sense.

At least it does in my head.


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