Monday, 29 October 2012

Merge and be Damned: Penguin and Random House

Apologies to Pingu and Spongebob SquarePants
News today that the Penguin and Random House merger is definitely on. If reports are accurate, the Owners of Random House (The international media group based in Germany, Bertelsmann) will own 53%, with Pearson (the US owner of Penguin) left with 47%.

In the month of Microsoft's launch of their Surface tablet and Apple's new iPad Mini, for the self-publisher the merger is worth noting because it shows the power of internet retail, and the strength of the world beyond the traditional publisher. This merger is a straightforward attempt to survive in a tough High Street climate where the legacy publishing houses struggle with strategies and structures built for a bricks and mortar age. 

In the world of print, change is slow because although, at its best, the industry carefully curates its output, in the end, business is business so Pearson and Bertelsmann need to make a profit in an environment that is changing more rapidly than at any time over the last 100 years. The last two years alone have seen astonishing growth in digital sales, reflecting the swift change in consumer habits represented by ipads, tablets and smartphones. It’s hard for the bigger publishers to keep up but the figures tell the story (information from The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch and Bloomberg Business Week):
  • The new merged entity, Penguin Random, will turnover 3 billion USD
  • Pearson annual net sales in 2011 were 5.88 billion up from  5.14 billion in 2009
  • For Barnes and Noble (the largest book chain in the world) turnover was 7 bn in 2011, up from 5.1 bn in 2009.
These appear to be significant numbers, and in the contained world of publishing, they are the biggest fish in the pond. But compare them to the broader, modern phenomenon that is the Internet, and they don't look so mighty:
  • Amazon annual sales in 2011 were 48 billion, up from 24 billion in 2009
  • Google achieved 37 billion in 2011, 23 billion in 2009
This is the market that controls access to the hallowed consumer.

Even more extreme, are two manufacturers on whose mobile devices the internet retailers rely:
  • Samsung Electronics sales were 150 billion in 2011, 124 billion in 2009
  • Apple reached 108 billion in 2011, up from 42 billion in 2009
For the self-publisher this is good news: as the market grows online so the opportunities grow. Promoting single titles into Amazon, Nook and Apple has never been easier (this is the liberated world of self-publishing). Quality matters, good editing matters, but ultimately the role of the bigger traditional publisher (whatever their size), so reliant on big sales to cover the big advances for the big celebrity authors, is rapidly diminishing for a great many authors trying to maximise their own impact online. 

Coming Next: Amazon Direct or Traditional Publisher?

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