Markus Dohle at Frankfurt Studio: ‘Long-Form Reading’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

‘Penguin Random House’s worldwide CEO Markus Dohle analyzes his abiding optimism for publishing—and for ‘zigzgging’ when the time is right.

Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Markus Dohle speaks with Publishing Perspectives’ Porter Anderson during the exclusive kickoff event originating from the new facility. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Johannes Minkus

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Dohle’s Optimism for Publishing: Undiminished
Calling himself a “data-informed optimist,” Markus Dohle—the affable and energetic worldwide CEO of Penguin Random House—inaugurated the new Frankfurt Studio media-production facility today (October 20) in a live interview on the set in Hall 4 at Frankfurter Buchmesse.

The B2B programming for the new Studio has been curated by Publishing Perspectives, and continues its run into Friday as “Frankfurt Studio: Inside Publishing,” and then its stream remains visible on the Buchmesse home page through the weekend’s public-facing events as “Frankfurt Studio: Festival.”

Being in the unusual situation of reporting on an event in which the editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives took part, we’ll simply quote several comments from Dohle to give you a sense for his thinking on a range of topics.

On the Importance of Long-Form Reading

“We live in very peculiar times and long-form reading has become even more important.

“We live in a world that’s driven by breaking news, news by the second. And we in book publishing have always provided the deep dive into a  holistic view—hopefully based on facts and the truth—to actually give people broader information about topics, particularly of course in nonfiction, when we want to  educate people: how to entertain and inspire them?”

On Long-Form Reading and Democracy’s Future

“We know from psychology that immersing yourself into complex stories—particularly into complex characters—helps you to put yourself into other people’s shoes.

“It helps you to actually see the world from other points of view, and we know it creates empathy and human values, especially in young people. That’s what the world needs right now if we want to help defend our democracy, based on human values.

“Let’s get all kids reading in long-form, and I think we can make a good contribution to help our democracy, as we’ve enjoyed it for the last 75 years after World War II, to survive.

“I truly believe in the value of publishing but also in our responsibility to help our society, to come together and to heal from what has become a really, really polarized world.”

On an Upbeat ‘Global Roadshow’

Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Markus Dohle speaks with Publishing Perspectives’ Porter Anderson during the exclusive kickoff event originating from the new facility. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Johannes Minkus

On Challenging Aspects of the Pandemic’s Arrival

“All publishers had to learn in record time how to launch our books into the world by 100-percent remote. And kudos to so many who supported this, from a digital-workflow-process perspective, the opportunity to actually bring books to market without any marketing in the office.”

On Optimism and Publishing’s Evolution

“I’m four years into what I call my ‘global roadshow’ [on] why this is the best time in publishing since Gutenberg invented the printing press some 600 years ago. And we’re now, here in Frankfurt, some 20 miles away from there.”

 Six Reasons ‘This Is the Best Time in Publishing’

“The first reason why this is the best time in publishing is that the revenue pool of our industry globally is growing every year, so consumers are putting more money on books, on stories in long-form, than in the year before. That’s a good starting place.”

“The second reason is that we have very stable, robust, developed business models for the physical distribution of our content, but also for the digital distribution of our stores.

“The third reason is that we’ve found what I call a healthy coexistence between print distribution and digital distribution. You know the discussions 10 years ago about ‘What will be the share, the split between digital and physical distribution, by 2020 or 2021?’

“The fourth point is that the reachable audience is growing. The world population is growing by 3 to 4 percent each year, and literacy rates are going through the roof, bringing more people into our reading ecosystem and e-commerce.

“The No. 5 reason this is the best time in publishing is that books for children and for young adults have been the fastest-growing categories of the last 25 years, since Harry Potter. That brings ever larger generations into our ecosystem.

“Last but not least, the sixth reason is that audiobooks are moving. [Consumers] are passionate, and audiobooks are not just cannibalizing other formats because you can do other things while listening to a good audiobook.

“And these six reasons have all been holding true or even accelerating during the pandemic.”

On the Primacy of Print

“When I defined our strategy back in 2008 or 2009 with my team, I described it as format-agnostic and, since, channel agnostic. I said, ‘We want to grow in print and we want to grow in digital.’

“We believe that even 50 years from now, a significant chunk of our business will be print. Perhaps at the time, I wasn’t as ambitious as 80 percent [print]. But I was thinking, ‘It’s not going to go away.'”

And on the Simon & Schuster Acquisition

“Our purpose is to help create the future of books and reading for generations to come. That’s our purpose. And we know that if we achieve that goal, that purpose, that vision, then, as a byproduct and logical consequence, Penguin Random House should have a place in this industry we achieve.

“The future of books and reading, we think is really essential for our democracy and our society. So we are coming from that.

“Then, as you’ve seen, we’ve invested a lot into our physical supply chain right in the United States in particular, and also worldwide, more than $100 million in the last 10 years, right?

“So we zigzagged a little bit—when people were going away from print we were heavily investing into it, because we wanted to actually work on a diverse channel mix.

“I like zigzagging. And we’ve invested heavily because we really knew that bookstores are important. And we wanted to make them more efficient, more profitable, and help them reduce returns and inventory levels in the chain.

“And today, I think people acknowledge that we have a very good, if not the best, supply chain in the industry.”

Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Markus Dohle speaks with Publishing Perspectives’ Porter Anderson during the exclusive kickoff event originating from the new facility. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Johannes Minkus

More from Publishing Perspectives on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, more on the German market is here, and more on publishing trade shows and book fairs is here. More on Penguin Random House is here and more on Markus Dohle is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here. 

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.