For the past few years, authors have kind of looked on in dismay as publishing houses like Penguin and Random House lumbered like dinosaurs underneath the growing shadow of the meteoric threat known as ebooks.
I was – and continue to be – part of that group, so I was proud to hear of the Penguin & Random House merger.
I firmly believe that, at the rate the industry is going, it’s imperative for publishers to move fast to adapt to this stuff.
Think about it:
- the number of self-published books have jumped by 287% over the past six years
- Kindle ebook sales have actually outpaced Amazon print sales
- Three of the top 10 2012 Kindle authors were published by Kindle Direct Publishing
Amazon is casting a big shadow over the industry and no one quite knows what to make of it.
That’s why I was happy to see that Random House and Penguin, after months of courting one another, took the plunge and officially merged… and even happier that they weren’t shy about the reasons, either: ebooks.
Pearson (Penguin’s parent company) Chief Executive Marjorie Scardino explained:
“Together, the two publishers will be able to share a large part of their costs, to invest more for their author and reader constituencies and to be more adventurous in trying new models in this exciting, fast-moving world of digital books and digital readers.”
Why this is good and not bad
I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty hard for me to see mergers as good things.
Alarm bells go off in my head about monopolies, money grabs, and mature-capitalism-limiting-consumer-options-to-the-point-of-tyrannical-corporate-control-and-terrible-customer-service (looking at you, Comcast).
But I can’t help but think positively about this merger as a necessary adjustment to the rapidly changing landscape.
Why? Because I’m hopeful that by combining forces, Penguin and Random House will be innovative.
There are so many possibilities for big-name publishers when it comes to ebooks, if they choose to be advocates for authors instead of stockholders.
I’ve talked about a few of them before:
- Monthly subscription on a chapter-by-chapter basis, with new content delivered straight to mobile devices (there’s already been a semi-promising step in pay-per-page trends)
- Hiring agents whose job it is to find those ebooks in the rough… yes, reversing the model on its head
- Creating the next definition of “book” (shorter? more pictures? more social?)
- PR departments for self-published authors
- Interactive books for tablets & smartphones
Now, there are potential downsides to the merger, too. There’s already talk about consolidation, that small publishers won’t be able to compete and they’ll have to join with Random-Penguin… and the notion that the merger may send book prices “soaring.”
What it means for authors
Authors are a suspicious bunch. We curl our noses at violent changes like this, because it’s just another distraction from our Masterpiece.
It’s too early to gauge the long-term reverberations of the Penguin & Random House merger. We don’t even know if it will be deemed legal yet.
However, if you polish Scardino’s statement enough, you can glean some meaning.
If Random House and Penguin are focusing on “new models” for books, then you should, too.
This is a big move by big publishers trying to adjust to the digital age and authors need to follow in their footsteps.
How? Well, you can…
- Make a website
- Publish things everywhere
- Create a dynamic presence that can be Googled
- Don’t write in a bubble
Sure, writing in a bubble is necessary for authors who want to do any critical thinking, ever. You need to be at peace with your thoughts and enter your zone.
But don’t get too isolated. Authors need to be as digitally savvy as publishers, because when you start knocking on their doors with a manuscript and you don’t even have a blog… well… consider your bubble popped.
You’ll realize, as you free-fall to earth, publishers like Penguin and Random House – along with thousands of authors – are scrambling up Digital Mountain, even if none of them are sure what’s at the top.
Looking for more? I’m working on a guide to Facebook & content marketing for writers looking to promote their books, due early 2013.
Photo Credit: Anne Froehlich