From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:
The United States Justice Department is suing to stop the big merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. That I can write about without a lot of research, because I’ve been following this merger for a long time.
. . . .
However, this suit is worth mentioning…
Because it’s fifteen to twenty years too late. The Authors Guild noted that in their response to the news of the DOJ suit:
Today’s decision by the DOJ was unexpected given that so many other major mergers and acquisitions in the publishing industry have gone through recently and over the last few decades with nary a raised eyebrow, leaving us with only a handful of companies dominating the industry.
Yeah. Exactly. Those of us who suffered through the previous mergers know what bullshit the PRH and S&S are feeding the press. No effect on competition? In the 1990s, my books routinely went to auction, and we always got a higher price for the books than the initial offer.
By the end of the decade and into the early part of this century, there was no one to have an auction with. The book had to be a potential (and obvious) blockbuster. One of my editors backed out of a possible deal when she heard that another editor at a different imprint in the same gigantic merged company wanted the book.
Oh, my editor said to me, she can pay you more, and their imprint will probably take over mine in a year or so.
Guess what? My editor was right. Eighteen months after the merger, the “overlapping” departments and imprints were cut as a cost-saving measure, putting my former editor out of a job, along with everyone else on her team. The cuts and trimming, for the sake of the stockholders, mostly hit the most experienced people in the purchased company (not the one that did the buying) because experienced folk are paid more.
. . . .
All the promises in the world mean nothing when large companies merge.
I read the complaint for the suit the day the suit was announced. The complaint is worth reading because, if nothing else, it’s a what-if. What if the DOJ had been on this as the mergers started twenty years ago? What would the traditional publishing landscape look like now?
I can tell you: It would look completely different. Instead of the traditional part of the industry being dominated by five large conglomerates, the traditional part of the industry would look the same or better than it did in the early 1990s. There would be a lot of publishing houses, a lot of working editors, a lot of imprints, and a lot of competition.
Indie wouldn’t be as attractive for many big name writers because those writers would still be working. Just this morning, I discovered that a writer whose work I loved decades ago has gone indie. Why? Because he hasn’t been able to get anyone to buy his books for…you guessed it…twenty years.
This happened to a worldwide bestseller who hit the top of the major lists for decades and whose work was made into three feature films. He couldn’t sell another book because his genre was “passé.” His genre? Horror. No one at the big houses would touch horror twenty years ago, and even the smaller ones looked askance at it.
If anyone had any brains, they would have seen that the genre would become as big as it is now. Right now, the people greenlighting movies and TV shows and buying books are the generation who grew up reading R.L. Stine. Of course, they want more horror. It was on the horizon.
The multitudinous publishing houses of the 1980s and 1990s could have afforded to play the waiting game—at least one or two of them, or maybe even three of them. Even better, the editors there who would have had long careers would have seen the writing on the wall and pushed out reissues of this writer’s books as the horror boom started.
The five large companies that exist now have no idea what they have in inventory. They have no institutional memory because they’re really not an institution. They’re parts, slammed together to make a great stock portfolio, so that they can be traded and bring in profits for the stockholders. Forget the books, forget the product, forget the employees, forget the readers. The books literally are widgets that are, in the minds of the people running the company, interchangeable.
If this weren’t true, then Simon & Schuster would not be up for sale. ViacomCBS would keep it and mine the inventory for projects for various TV, streaming, and movie projects, not to mention gaming rights and other things. A book publisher owned by a media company? Sounds like a surefire way to make even more money, right?
There’s no vision here.
And the suit by DOJ is as stuck in the past as that little dream of mine was. Yes, this merger by PRH and S&S is truly anti-competitive, just like all the other mergers were. And the impact, should the merger go through, on the traditional publishing industry will be profound…although not as profound as all of the mergers that preceded it.
What has changed is the rise of indie publishing. Writers do have somewhere else to go. They can publish their own works. They can reach the same readers that these large companies can, because these companies are no longer interested in publishing books. They’re just manufacturing widgets.
One very ironic thing that has emerged during the entire discussion of the merger is this: For about a decade now, companies like PRH and S&S denied that indie writers in any way contributed to the publishing industry. “Flotsam and jetsam” were some of the words floated around about indie publishing; “garbage” was another.
Now, though? Now that they need us? We’re part of their defense.
Oh, no, the attorneys for PRH and S&S have been saying all year, we’re not in control of the market. See this large thriving market over here? Those indie writers? They’re part of the industry too.
. . . .
The traditional publishing industry, as I have written many, many, many times, is broken. New writers can no longer anticipate having a career in the traditional publishing industry, let alone making a living at writing. And even a lot of the big guns are watching their income fade because of the policies and behaviors of these megacorporations.
Sure, there are always a handful of books that make millions. But once upon a time (twenty-five years ago), there were hundreds of books that made their authors millions. Enough books that Publisher’s Weekly devoted an entire month of issues every spring to cover the sales figures, never going below 250,000 for hardcovers and 500,000 for mass market paperbacks.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch
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