Memo to publishers: need bigger dinosaurs.

It’s kind of appropriate in the week that Amazon drowned Comet that Random House and Penguin should announce their merger.

So far opinion has been divided – we all want strong publishers able to stand up to the internet leviathans, but when both Rupert Murdoch AND the Guardian are muttering darkly on the sidelines then it’s hard to feel too much like this is the dawn of new golden age.

The fact is that publishers have consistently for the last decade and a half screwed the pooch when it comes to negotiating favourable terms with their retail partners. Books stand proudly alongside crappy sofas and second hand cars as being on permanent sale. ‘Yay, we’re sh*t’ they proudly say with the constantly reiterated announcement that they are not worth the price printed on their jackets.

So the notion that this new Random Penguin will swim against the current and fight the Amazonian deluge seems more than a little unlikely.

The new entity will apparently be big enough to take risks (according to John Makinson). Perhaps, but in corporate environments that are as averse to risk taking as modern publishers you have to wonder how that is going to work out.

I’d really love it if they really did take the bull by the horns and clearly state that Amazon is a hostile competitor and not a trading partner and that their future has to lie in a diverse internet retailing environment where they handle a significant number of those sales (and ebook sales in particular) themselves and where they take active steps to encourage diversity by not offering throat cutting discounts that disproportiionately favour giants like Amazon.

But to do that they have to be prepared to take the hit – Amazon will fight back and fight back hard. Jeff Bezos is a streetfighter. Is anyone in publishing?

I really hope so.



Nimble and specialised to survive

Great article. I share the same fears that the bigger outfit will be like a larger cruise ship that can't turn fast enough while Amazon buys a fleet of speedboats - I have decided by the way that today is metaphor day (sorry).

Amazon continue to impress me with their strategic plays in the market. Kindle was a masterstroke and continues to be a trojan horse into other retailers (Waterstones banner for Kindle 'Brave New World) made me smile - I think they've bought a rotweiler that will end up snapping at their own heels there. Book Depository was a legendary purchase - opening up all sorts of distribution routes for them.

The huge discounts that the big publishers lavish on Amazon I agree are counterproductive as it fuels the low cost culture that puts pressure on the little guys. However, as a small publisher I've found a way to compete with Amazon on price - ssshh don't tell anyone, especially Amazon - they are too important a customer. Bundle up a few books together and we can afford to spread the delivery cost so we can compete. Expect to see a host of trilogy packs from us in the run up to xmas........ and when we finally build our own ebookstore we'll do the same......

Random Penguin

Seems to me this new entity will have to reinvent the publishing model in order to succeed. Of critical importance will be finding ways to disintermediate the connection between readers and writers. 

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