Sunday, July 14, 2013

When Six Become Five

I’m sure that many of you have heard by now that two of the largest publishing houses have officially merged to become Penguin Random House, according to several sources and a particularly interesting opinion piece in The New York Times. The Times article also suggested that HarperCollins has been “flirting” over a possible merger with Simon & Schuster, which would give authors and their agents only four big publishers (the other two are Hachette and Macmillan) to send manuscripts to. Did you know that these five companies publish about two-thirds of the books in the U.S.?

Among the several opinion pieces I’ve read this week, the general consensus is that the merger is in response to the Goliath that is Amazon, who happened to come out on the winning side of a huge ebook price fixing lawsuit in the States recently. Let’s face it, Amazon rules the ebook world, Amazon offers great prices, and has a close (and sometimes tumultuous) relationship with consumers. But at least they’re finding ways to stay in touch with folks and respond to opinion, although not necessarily for the better.

The ramifications for authors seeking traditional publishing with big companies offering real advances is huge. Already, some of these larger houses restrict their constituent imprints (publishing houses that have since been bought up and reduced to the cheap seats) from bidding against one another on a manuscript. Fewer options for authors means it will be harder to attract a big publisher's attention and advances will be lower. Face it, with fewer publishers in the game, they won’t have to compete as hard and they certainly know that many authors will be willing to accept less just to land that all-important contract. You can find the article at

Needless to say, there’s been a lot of scathing comments in blogs and articles about this merger. In fact, I haven’t come across any article that applauds it, although there must be at least one out there somewhere. What I have seen are responses such as the one in Teleread by a writer who’s listed the big six publishers’ “perfect storm” of mistakes over recent years. It’s a long piece and you might not agree with everything, but I think you’ll find it insightful.

As you know, in the publishing biz, the only constant is change, and I have a feeling there will be much more to come. Exciting stuff, isn’t it?


Charmaine Clancy said...

I figure I'll worry about my job and let them (publishing houses and retailers) worry about theirs.

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Thanks for your comment, Charmaine! Yeah, that's probably good advice :)