Readersforum's Blog

November 6, 2012

Book publishers have long been playing into Amazon’s hands

Penguin, soon to get into bed with Random House.

The proposed merger of Penguin and Random House might be too late for a publishing industry seemingly set on self-destruction.

By John Naughton

There’s something quaintly touching about the spectacle of two publishing conglomerates – Bertelsmann and Pearson – arranging for their book-publishing arms (Random House and Penguin respectively) to huddle together for warmth against the icy blasts coming from California (Google and Apple) and Seattle (Amazon). When the deal (which still has to be approved by regulators) was announced, there was the usual corporate guff about “synergies” – aka job losses – and about how the new partnership will be “the world’s leading publishing house”, which will give it “the upper hand” in its dealings with Apple and Amazon.

Ho, ho. In the long view of history, the Bertelsmann-Pearson deal will be seen as just the latest instalment of a long-running story: a tale of formerly dominant industries trying to prevent their venerable business models being dismantled by the internet. The early victims were travel agents, record labels, newspapers, magazines and broadcast networks.

In each case, the relevant executives could be heard loudly declaring that while it was indeed the case that the guys “over there” (gesturing in the direction of some other industry) were being disintermediated by the network, nevertheless the speaker’s own industry was special and therefore immune from technological contagion. Universities and book publishers have been arguing like this for quite a while. The Bertelsmann-Pearson deal suggests that the publishers have finally heard the tocsin. Universities haven’t got the message yet.

The funny thing about the publishing industry is that long before it was really threatened by the internet it was busily rearranging itself so as to make it more vulnerable to it. The process was vividly described by sociologist John Thompson in his book Merchants of Culture, the best account we have of what happened to publishing.

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November 2, 2012

Penguin merger minuses could be pluses for indies

Filed under: Publishers — Tags: , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:01 am

Secondhand wisdom … a reprint of an early Penguin Classic

The book trade’s response to the creation of Penguin Random House has been largely despairing – but there is new hope for independents.

By Gavin James Bower

The reactions to news that the publishing arms of Bertelsmann and Pearson are merging, creating the biggest publisher in the world in Penguin Random House, can be summed up in one word: negative. There are, however, three strands to this glass-half-emptiness – and all of them, when you scratch beneath the surface, spectacularly miss the point.

First, there’s pessimism – evident in bleak industry forecasts right, left and centre based on the current state of the trade, in its worst shape in living memory. Print sales are falling – down 11% in 2011, the trend continuing in 2012 – while bookshops, both specialist and chain, are closing. Borders has gone, Waterstones is in turmoil, and independent booksellers the length and breadth of the country are vanishing. Publishers, meanwhile, are being squeezed by the last remnants of the High Street, struggling to make established margins pay. Last but not least, advances are falling, the midlist novelist looking like an endangered species and writing for a living no longer an option for the vast majority of published let alone aspiring authors.

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October 29, 2012

Penguin/Random House merger confirmed

Markus Dohle

29.10.12 | Benedicte Page

Pearson and Bertelsmann have confirmed that Penguin and Random House are to combine into a new consumer publishing organisation, Penguin Random House, with the merger expected to complete in the second half of 2013.

Bertelsmann will own 53% of the new venture and Pearson 47%; Bertelsmann gets five directors on the new board and Pearson four. Current Penguin chairman and chief executive John Makinson will be chairman of Penguin Random House with Random House chief executive Markus Dohle in the chief executive role for the new company.

However the joint venture will exclude Bertelsmann’s trade publishing business in Germany and Pearson will retain rights to use the Penguin brand in education markets worldwide.

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September 3, 2011

Pearson goes open source with Plug and Play

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 9:40 am

 | By Anna Richardson Taylor

Pearson has embraced an open-source approach to digital content, making its proprietary content available to third-party digital developers.

The publisher officially globally launched its Plug and Play platform today [1st September], which gives in-house and external developers the chance to use Pearson-owned content to create digital applications. Pearson announced the project in May with news of an open application programming interface (API) for its DK Eyewitness Guide to London. Plug and Play offers data from it, as well as from Pearson’s Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and FT Press, as well as developer support and pricing details.

Diana Stepner, head of future technologies at Pearson, said the project ties in with the growing trend towards open-source development and collaboration. Those in the industry not responding to this trend would be left behind, she added. She said: “There’s a great movement to open up content so other people can create innovative ideas. Open source is becoming very powerful, and we realise the benefits that can by gained by allowing other people to experiment with our content. Companies that don’t believe the world has changed will be surprised – it’s best to start working with new developers as soon as possible.”

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