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.
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