We heard on Monday that the Penguin Random House merger has been approved in China; this, hot on the heels of the announcement, earlier this month, that Andrew Philllips had replaced Kevin Weiss as CEO of Author Solutions, the Penguin-owned, US and Philippines-based, self-publishing behemoth. Two totally unrelated stories, no doubt. Really?
The Author Solutions acquisition was headline news last August. Quite right too: the world’s biggest publishing brand acquires the world’s biggest self-publishing company. The folks at Author Solutions got all their Christmases at once and Kevin Weiss got a seat on the main Penguin board, albeit briefly. Legitimatisation, at last, for self-publishing in the wider industry and a substantial ROI for Bertram Capital, the California-based P.E. firm that built Author Solutions into the production engine it is today.
Then, Penguin and Random merged and the Author Solutions acquisition story disappeared from the front pages, as the consolidation of two of the Biggest Boys in publishing usurped what had been, thus far, the biggest story of the year.
What if we’re missing the point, though? What if the two stories were actually part of the same, integrated, Author Solutions / Penguin Random House strategy?
Back to that Author Solutions production engine... In just a few years, this incredibly efficient pre-press machine has transformed, literally, hundreds of thousands of self-published manuscripts into designed and print-ready book files. A quick tot-up of the ISBNs of Author Solutions’ four core imprints - AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris and Trafford - delivers more than 263,000 titles on amazon.
I’ll say that again: 263,000 titles. And that doesn’t include those additional titles resulting from their partnerships with Thomas Nelson and Hay House. That’s far more than the total, combined output of Penguin and Random House; far more than any ‘traditional’ publisher has ever published. A notable proportion, in fact, of all the ISBNs issued in recent years.
We’ve seen Author Solutions piggy-back on Penguin in a number of the less high profile ‘international markets’ (‘Author Solutions India, a Penguin company’) but we’ve seen very little public association between the two businesses in the core US and UK markets. Is that because Penguin is anxious about Author Solutions’ occasionally less than pristine PR, or, notwithstanding Author Solutions’ high margins, is it because Penguin really isn’t that interested in its core self-publishing business at all?
A key driver in the success of the hybrid Penguin Random House giant has to be the consolidation, rationalisation and cost-cutting exercise that will inevitably follow the merger. So here’s the theory: Penguin actually acquired Author Solutions in order to use its awesome, ready-made and heavily road-tested production engine as an integral catalyst to deliver a substantial part of the forthcoming merger. Will Penguin Random House’s books have ‘Made in Cebu’ stamped on their verso pages in the future?
And what of my old boss, the effortlessly charming and driven Kevin Weiss? I reckon he could go one of two ways: either he’ll turn up in a leading integration role within Penguin Random House, or he’ll disappear back into the Bertram Capital lair and metamorphose, new Dr Who-like, into CEO of their Next Big Investment.
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