Penguin Random House Merger: UK Reactions (And Melville House’s)

In News by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

penguinrhAt The Bookseller, talk was of the upcoming merger of Penguin and Random, which is expected to be finalized in July and will create “the largest trade publishing business ever.” In honor of the upcoming nuptials, the paper asked a number of industry insiders their recommendations on what the company’s new management should do.

Some excerpts:

Agent Jonny Geller, MD, Curtis Brown:

“How can a merger of two dominant publishers improve the ‘rights’ of an author? Will there be more flexibility in contracts or less? Agents obviously fear the latter. Will sales departments merge? [Will] authors who chose a boutique imprint (like Secker of Hamish Hamilton) may find themselves competing with the commercial juggernauts of other imprints? How will the author be heard when one group controls nearly a third of the market? Some very smart people are behind this merger and I am not in the conspiracy theory camp nor do I believe this move is simply to increase leverage with Amazon. If Penguin Random provides a robust reason that big can be beautiful, deliver new dynamism, new ways of growing readership (a Penguin virtual bookshop that invites other publishers to take floors?), then we will welcome further changes in months and years ahead.”

Agent, Caroline Michel, chief executive, PFD:

“To a writer the size of the publishing house doesn’t really mater, some of the most promising books in some of the largest publishing houses fall of the radar. What matters is getting the book they have written into the hands of as many readers as possible in whatever form, print, digital, audio.

“So where size does matter is the power that the company can wield in achieving all of the above for their authors as well as protecting the rights of the author. The publisher cannot be just a production line.”

Rebecca Smart, chief executive, Osprey:

“There would be two key organizational themes I would address as quickly as possible. First, I would look at structuring publishing around readers’ interests, taking the lead from whichever company is strongest in each genre or subject area. This would allow reader relationships to be built up steadily by a consistent team across many books, rather than marketing and selling a book at a time. Second, I’d focus on developing and utilizing global infrastructure that facilitates local action. How can the mass of data the combined entity will have be shared around divisions and around the world in order to drive the best decision-making, publishing, sales, marketing and customer service in each territory?”

Patrick Neale, bookseller and president of The Booksellers Association:

“…the important job will be to focus on publishing really great books in all formats. Everyone is poised to observe how the new behemoth will work with its larger customers, hoping that the behemoth can wrestle the internet Titan into more reasonable behavior. It’s essential that this company doesn’t think it can sell direct to customers. You need thousand of shops and ardent food soldiers/booksellers on the ground to keep books relevant in this busy age.”

Dennis Johnson, publisher and co-founder, Melville House:

“If I were the CEO of Random Penguins, I would…

1. Join those b******* at Apple in standing up to the American government’s persecution of the publication industry, and its protection of Amazon’s monopoly. I’d fight back against the EU’s imitation of the US DOJ, too.

2. Make all the e-books in my kingdom DRM free.

3. Give independent publishers the same deal I’m giving Amazon.

4. End the insane practice of returns…”

Read the entire the article, including the rest of Dennis Johnson’s wish list, here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.