This week has seen the merger of Penguin and Random House, two of the big publishers that together make up a 25% share of the global market. What does this mean for the industry in general and more importantly the readers and writers within it?
Amazon have killed so much of the competition in recent years that it was beginning to look like a Death Star floating around in the universe. Some kind of a stand had to be expected from the traditional publishers and this is obviously their attempt. The question though is whether size will defeat the new digital world?
The future of reading will undoubtedly include a large proportion of eBooks and at the moment the best place for them to be sourced from is Amazon. The most popular eReader is the Kindle and it all sits together in perfect harmony in a shiny Amazon world. But herein lies a problem for self-published writers because if the rules of the game are controlled by one superpower then who’s to stop them changing the rules later on.
Self-published writers can expect a 70% royalty rate on most eBooks that they sell through Amazon but what would happen if Amazon cut that to 20% in a years time. The competition would be non-existent and readers would all be completely tied in to the Kindle Store, so writers would have no choice than to take the 20% and say thank you.
A Penguin Random House merger will at least provide a competitor with enough oomph to stake a challenge for the market, even the eBook market, but will they. Will the new joint venture bring out their own eReader? Doubtful; are these two companies ahead of all of the others in terms of digital publishing? No.
It is said that a good publisher is one that takes a risk, an educated risk, by publishing some non-standard offerings that they predict will do well, ultimately changing and developing the market. Over the last few years the only risk that’s been taken by most publishing CEO’s is whether to eat the cheese sandwich that’s been left in their drawer over the weekend.
Biographies, cookbooks, and established bestselling authors are the only thing they’ve been interested in. Stifling the very market that they should be controlling. They’ve been scared and Amazon have run off with the lucky charms. So, will the merger improve this situation? I think it will. They will now have more of an ability to take a risk and begin to publish new writers and good work rather than just work that guarantees commercial success.
The merger will make very little difference now to a reader because the market has changed so much that the customer is in complete control. There’s no gatekeeper anymore and the ability to purchase books is easy and convenient, this won’t change.
There may well be more of an incentive to sign with a traditional publisher again, if they are going to be more prepared to develop talent and pay higher advances, but only time will tell.
The worry is that the company will become so big that for the next couple of years they will focus on creating synergies in their operations and take their focus off the market. If this happens it could be fatal because one thing that you definitely can predict is that Amazon will continue to surge.
How does this merger make you feel?