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March 13, 2013

Penguin dominates PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize shortlist

| By Joshua Farrington

Four Penguin titles feature on the six-strong shortlist for the £3,000 PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History.

In the running order are three books from Penguin imprint Allen Lane—Jerry Brotton’s A History of the World in Twelve Maps; Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers; and Mark Mazower’s Governing the World. Savage Continent by Keith Lowe (Penguin Viking) is also on the shortlist.

Two titles from independent publishers have also made the list, with Nigel Cliff’s The Last Crusade (Atlantic Books) and Jonathan Dimbleby’s Destiny in the Desert (Profile Books) completing the line-up.

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March 10, 2013

Bookish Has a Dirty Little Secret

bookish_logo1-250x57By Nate Hoffelder

When Bookish launched a couple weeks back I didn’t think much of the site. The press release claimed that Bookish would be a great community that would help readers find their next book, only there was no community and the discovery engine was less than amazing.

I suspected at the time that Bookish would turn out to be little more than a marketing tool for the 3 publishers who financed the site, and today I learned that my suspicions were correct.

Peter Winkler, writing for The Huffington Post, noticed that all of the books promoted on Bookish were published by either Hachette, Penguin, or Simon & Schuster.

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US indies launch DRM lawsuit

posmanThree US independent bookshops have launched a lawsuit against the big six publishers and Amazon in America claiming that by signing a contract to sell e-books with DRM through Amazon, they are combining to restrict the sale of e-books through indie stores.

Fiction Addiction in South Carolina, Posman Books in New York [pictured] and Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza are taking the action against Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Random House, Macmillan and Amazon claiming that the publishers signed contracts with Amazon to sell e-books with DRM that was “specifically designed to limit the use of digital content” to Kindle devices, according to Publishers Lunch.

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February 12, 2013

Book site Bookish launches

bookish1| By Charlotte Williams

Book retail website Bookish has launched, featuring content including book recommendations, extracts, articles by a dedicated editorial staff, and partnerships with the Onion and USA Today which are aimed at driving readers to the site.

The initiative is backed by Hachette, Penguin and Simon & Schuster in the US. Users can sign up to receive newsletters, book and author news and create personal bookshelves, and share content over social media and email.

The recommendation engine on the site is fed by Bookish editors, authors, book editors and publishers.

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January 29, 2013

Readers sue Armstrong and US publishers

 

lance_armstrong| By Charlotte WIlliams

Two US book buyers are suing cyclist Lance Armstrong and his publishers Random House US and Penguin Group USA over claims they presented fiction as autobiography. The development follows Armstrong’s confession that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles.

The California duo, Rob Stutzman and Jonathan Wheeler, filed a complaint on 22nd January in federal court in Sacramento saying that they would not have bought It’s Not About the Bike or Every Second Counts had they known the truth. The plaintiffs said: “Both books have now been exposed as frauds.”

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December 4, 2012

How Mergermania Is Destroying Book Publishing

bookstore_ap_img  By André Schiffrin
The recently announced merger of Penguin and Random House, which is owned by Bertelsmann in Germany, sent shock waves throughout Western publishing circles. This new leviathan will publish a quarter of all books appearing in English, with annual sales of close to $4 billion, yet it is being treated by The New York Times and other media as a routine and perhaps even beneficial development.

Since the 1980s, when Random House was purchased by Si Newhouse’s Advance Publications, mergers have swallowed up most small and independent US and British firms. Publishing has been so dominated by the major conglomerates that another merger seems natural, the Times suggests. Indeed, others can be expected to follow. Rupert Murdoch has already expressed his disappointment at not having bought Penguin and his desire to buy another large firm to merge with HarperCollins, a subsidiary of News Corporation, which his family controls.

In a way, there’s a logic to this analysis. The mergers are occurring because book publishing has proved to be less profitable than the conglomerates had hoped. For most of the past two centuries, Western houses averaged a mere 3 percent annual profit. The new owners had hoped to raise the rate closer to 25 percent, to match those of their other holdings: newspapers, magazines and TV stations (even though these depend on advertising). But try as it might, publishing failed to churn out enough bestsellers.

Then came the competition from Amazon, which has entered the publishing market itself, hiring agents and editors to help it find bestselling authors. Amazon has also forced publishers to accept its pricing of e-books at $9.99—which has drastically reduced their profit margins and has the additional benefit for Amazon of weakening sales of the traditional trade paperback, the format publishers have counted on as a dependable earner.  It has even refused to list the books of houses that resisted its policies. Amazingly, the Justice Department has taken an extremely narrow view of the antitrust laws, prosecuting the publishers resisting Amazon’s pricing rather than the behemoth pressuring them.

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November 18, 2012

Tomalin, Penn win Biographers’ Club prizes

Claire Tomalin

|By Charlotte Williams

Winter King by Thomas Penn, published by Penguin, has won this year’s £5,000 Biographers’ Club HW Fisher Best First Biography Prize, with fellow Penguin author Claire Tomalin presented with the Lifetime Services to Biography Award.

Meanwhile, Jane Willis won the £2,000 Tony Lothian Prize for Marguerite, Byron and the Literary Factory, with the award for the best proposal by an uncommissioned, first-time biographer.

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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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Booksellers Resisting Amazon’s Disruption

By DAVID STREITFELD

Timothy Ferriss is the author of “The 4-Hour Chef,” published by Amazon.

Amazon prides itself on unraveling the established order. This fall, signs of Amazon-inspired disruption are everywhere.

There is the slow-motion crackup of electronics showroom Best Buy. There is Amazon’s rumored entry into the wine business, which is already agitating competitors. And there is the merger of Random House and Penguin, an effort to create a mega-publisher sufficiently hefty to negotiate with the retailer on equal terms.

Amazon inspires anxiety just about everywhere, but its publishing arm is getting pushback from all sorts of booksellers, who are scorning the imprint’s most prominent title, Timothy Ferriss’s “The 4-Hour Chef.” That book is coming out just before Thanksgiving into a fragmented book-selling landscape that Amazon has done much to create but that eludes its control.

Mr. Ferriss’s first book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” sold nearly a half-million copies in its original print edition, according to Nielsen BookScan. A follow-up devoted to the body did nearly as well. Those books about finding success without trying too hard were a particular hit with young men, who identified with their quasi-scientific entrepreneurial spirit.

Signing Mr. Ferriss was seen as a smart choice by Amazon, which wanted books that would make a splash in both the digital and physical worlds. When the seven-figure deal was announced in August 2011, Mr. Ferriss, a former nutritional supplements marketer, said this was “a chance to really show what the future of books looks like.” Now that publication is at hand, that future looks messy and angry.

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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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