aaron tung, via digitalbookworld.com
There are many differences between the book world and the music world.
For one thing, music-world people have long held a healthy disrespect for the weasels, hucksters, and corporate wolves running their industry.
Book-world people, in contrast, are often willfully supplicant toward their industry, its masters, and its most crippling business-as-usual tactics.
Until, perhaps, now.
Germany’s Bertelsmann and Britain’s Pearson Group announced they’re merging their respective English-language book publishing units, Random House and Penguin. Those firms, two of the Big Six in the U.S. book biz, have each absorbed other imprints over the years—Viking, Putnam, Bantam, Doubleday, Knopf, Pantheon, and many others.
Bertelsmann will control the merged entity, once the Feds approve (perhaps one year from now).
The official excuse, this time, is that big publishers need to become even bigger so they can “stand up to Amazon.”
But we know the real reason. Monopolistic greed and dreams of global conquest, as always.
Now, the publishing biz is too consolidated for its own good already. It has been since at least the mid-1990s.
But “people of the book” (authors, reviewers, editors, etc.) said or did little to challenge the takeovers.
They’d often complain about book selling falling into fewer hands, especially in the heyday of the Borders/Barnes & Noble duopoly. But these folks didn’t complain as much about publishers becoming ever fewer and ever bigger.
Book fans cold have used some of the music fans’ cynicism about the companies who claim to have their interests at heart.
And now, they might finally be developing some of that wise-assery.
Publishers don’t, and never really have, acted in the best interests of either authors or readers. They, like other businesses, are in it for themselves.
And in this case, their actions may lead (as an LA Times business writer puts it) to “higher prices and less diversity of book titles.”
Yet that piece, and other commentaries summarized by UK trade blog TheBookseller, repeat the seldom questioned presumption of a “diminished interest in books.”
Even though total print and e-book sales are rising, even soaring in some categories.
And even though print book sales have held their own in this economy, better than a lot of other media sectors.
Instead of ever mega-er mega publishers saving the book biz, perhaps the biz is renewing itself in spite of them.