Thursday, July 11, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Random Penguin Merger

Although he may not have a household name, Tom Dupree is a publishing insider with a lot of experience.  He doesn't blog often, but when he does, what he has to say is usually worth paying attention to.  He posted today about the merger of Penguin and Random House into Penguin Random House, (AKA Random Penguin on this blog).

I think he's spot on in what he has to say.  Go read his post if you haven't yet.  I'll still be here when you get back, with some thoughts of my own.

OK, now that you're back, the last few sentences of Tom's post should be fresh on your mind.  Here they are again for easy reference:

If you, the customer, get more stuff to read that you like, then this will have been a good thing. But if the Big Five turn into what they’re increasingly coming to resemble, the movie “majors” – nothing but blockbusters, and indie artists can go fend for themselves – then mutually assured destruction is just around the corner. And the real creativity – the kind that builds those glorious books that throw lightning bolts – will again reside where it once did: in small, independent publishing houses.

I'm afraid what we're going to see is the latter possibility rather than the former.  Let's look at the movies for a moment, shall we?  What do we usually get, especially this time of year?  Blockbusters, or rather blockbuster wanna-be's.  And how many of those are either sequels of previous years' blockbusters (Despicable Me 2) or reboots and new interpretations of old established franchises, often from TV or radio shows from prior generations (The Lone Ranger)?  There aren't very many original movies, although there are a few (Now You See Me), and many of those feature an actor or actress with established star power (Oblivion). 

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently criticized the film industry for depending on blockbusters and offering moviegoers less choice for higher prices.  (Does anyone else see the irony in this?)  I tend to agree with them. 

We've been seeing the same thing in publishing for quite a while.  It's getting harder to find original work amidst all the derivative crap, whether it's yet another necro-erotic urban fantasy or the latest imitation of The Lord of the Rings A Game of Thrones.  In science fiction, it's even worse.  Publishers want blockbusters or endless series of doorstoppers.  And the editing and quality of the physical product isn't improving.  But prices are going up.

I think small presses and independent publishers (including self-pubbers with a quality product) are where all the action is.  There's very little from the Big 5 that holds my interest any more.  While "mutually assured destruction" may be a bit over the top, it's not far from the truth.  When the publishers began merging and were swallowed up by a few multinational conglomerates, the readers and authors lost out.  Eventually readers will get tired of the same thing all the time and look elsewhere.

I don't hold out much hope for Random Penguin to improve the selection on the shelves of my local bookstores (yes, there are 3 where I live if you stretch the definition of bookstore considerably).  There are reasons why I read primarily books from indie and mid-size publishers such as Pyr and Angry Robot.  I do my best to point out some of the jewels I find here, at Futures Past and Present, and in my posts at Amazing Stories (TM).  There's not much I review from the big boys anymore.  I have a feeling that that isn't going to change anytime soon.


  1. Thanks for the kind words! I meant "mutually assured destruction" in the same sense you did: if everything is the same, then eventually there'll only be a Big One! I don't seriously expect that to happen, but look how many $200 million movies are getting yawns this summer; all that seems to be working are cheap horror flicks and More Of The Same, that is, sequels. By the way, I guess I need to stress that the "reasons" I gave to explain the current wave of mergers are from the publishers' POV, not mine. I thought that was clear, but I've been catching some poorly-aimed heat today. Shoot, I'm just glad you all are simply paying attention!

    1. You're welcome. I understood you were talking about the publisher's perspective. You do work in that industry, after all. I'm sorry not everyone did.