From The New York Times:
“IT’S official,” Alfred A. Knopf Sr. tweeted last week. “We’re now #PenguinRandomHouse.”
Mr. Knopf — or rather his ghostly avatar, the actual publisher havingsold his namesake firm to Random House in 1960, died in 1984 and rolled over many times since — was celebrating the largest book-publishing merger in history.
The merger, announced last October and completed on July 1 after regulatory approval, shrinks the Big Six, which publish about two-thirds of books in the United States, down to the Big Five.
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The creation of Penguin Random House (“the world’s first truly global trade book publishing company”) is partly a response to unprecedented pressures on these “legacy” publishers — especially from Amazon, which came out on the winning end of an antitrust lawsuit over the setting of e-book prices. It is also a way to gain leverage and capital in an industry that has been turned upside down. This endgame may be inevitable, but its consequences can’t be ignored.
Consolidation carries costs you won’t find on a price sticker. Dozens of formerly independent firms have been folded into this conglomerate.
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Decades of consolidation have cost writers and consumers alike. There is, for one, the persistent gripe of writers and agents: companies either forbid (as at Penguin) or restrict (at Random House) their constituent imprints from bidding against one another for a manuscript. That means not only lower advances, but also fewer options for writers to get the kind of painstaking attention — from editors, marketers and publicists — that it takes to turn their manuscripts into something valuable.
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In the more commercial genres — romance, horror, “Fifty Shades” — writers are beginning to find success in self-publishing. That’s a bit of a misnomer, because often it involves an agent who packages a book with any number of freelance editors and marketers, many of them refugees from the ever-shrinking houses. (Amazon’s publishing platform, which runs on more of a packaging model, has made inroads into these genres.)
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The Big Five have been so busy reducing old companies to brands that they’ve neglected the notion of what a brand should mean. Can any reader tell a Pantheon from a Riverhead novel? The logo doesn’t do the trick. The value of a publishing house — and now an imprint — has been its function as that dreaded straw man of the self-publishing gurus: a gatekeeper. In the hoary Model T days, gatekeepers weren’t a cabal but a cacophony, competing tooth and nail.
Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Bailey for the tip.