Penguin Random House and me

Random House and Penguin confirmed their amalgamation this week. It’s indicative of wider changes in the traditional publishing industry. Between them they’ll have about 25 percent of the world publishing market.

You can track my phone, but you don't know what I look like. Oh wait a minute, yes you do...

Was a Penguin and Random House author. Now a Penguin Random House author. Not a random penguin, that’s something else entirely.

They’ll also have about eighty percent of my licenses. Instead of publishing with two of the Big Six, I’m publishing with one of the Big Five – including, at the moment, two books ‘in press’ with the former Penguin and with the former Random House.

The logic behind the merger is a bigger force in the market. A response to the challenge laid down by Amazon and the e-publishing revolution.

Where will the merger take writers? I guess the answers will come in the fullness of time. The bigger challenge for any author is still being found by their readership. It helps to have the marketing clout of a big-name publisher. But a lot still rests on the individual author – and on writing great books.

It’s a global issue.

Your thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

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10 comments on “Penguin Random House and me

  1. kokkieh says:

    I’m too new to this business to venture an opinion, but can we have a post on a random penguin?

    • I have a story about one right now actually! We had one wash up on the beach near Wellington a couple of years ago – an Emperor Penguin that had come up from Antarctica. Was nursed back to health at the zoo and subsequently released in the southern ocean with GPS tracker that went dead within a week – which it wouldn’t have, had it merely fallen off. Orca digestive juices do that to tech…

      • kokkieh says:

        The poor thing, but that’s nature, after all. Thanks :-D

        Back to the original topic, I’ll take a crack at an opinion after all. I always feel uneasy when a corporation grows too large. The paranoid part of my brain warns of a board of directors who will decide what coming generations will read and what not. The same applies to media companies.

        As a still-unpublished author I’m also concerned about it becoming impossible to form any type of personal relationship with an editor as we all just become numbers on a page. Keep in mind I say that with only a very vague idea how things currently work.

        • The issue of publisher ‘product’ has been part of the business throughout – they deliberately gear their lists to meet particular market price-points and genre slots, and that was true well before the Amazon revolution. And, I have to admit, it does work. Yes, it frames what authors can publish – and yes, to an extent it becomes ‘corporate product’. But the hard reality is that these styles of book, on experience, are also what usually sell, and not just because this is the bulk of the offering provided to the public. Authors who go way out there – who try something utterly different – usually don’t get found or purchased.

          I’ve found the relationship with editors usually pretty good. My current editors at Penguin and Random are really excellent, and I’ve also got a very good editor with my other publisher (a locally-based New Zealand company, more on that anon). The trick is professionalism – accepting their editorial advice; following due and proper process – accepting, in short, that publishing IS a business and needs to be approached appropriately. All of this may seem to stand at odds with author creativity, but on my experience it doesn’t create issues.

  2. Vicky Adin says:

    On the topic of ‘product’, as a historian and author this story might make you smile, Matthew. My first book (2011) was a biographical narrative about Daniel, a New Zealand soldier and pioneer. Good historical background (properly researched and cited as my university background demanded), good family story, a twist in that the sons of the decorated soldier became conscientious objectors (one of whom was deported along with Archibald Baxter et al as one of The Fourteen) – all the drama you could hope for – and written like a novel from the viewpoint of the researcher.
    Whilst knowing my inexperience would be against me and looking for support, I approached three New Zealand publishers and was turned down by all of them. Not because I was new, but because – they said – no one reads New Zealand history any more! Really?
    My book was not considered a ‘product’ in demand.
    What should I write about if not the sort of books I want to read? Maybe I didn’t persevere long enough. Anyway, with the help of my writing group (Mairangi Writers), an editor and proof-reader and professional designer I indie-published in hard copy and e-book.
    My current book will also be indie-published – I don’t think a publisher would consider a story of family, secrets, genealogy, food and love a good enough ‘product’.

    • The issue often isn’t that the book isn’t good enough – but that there won’t be enough market for a publisher to justify the cost of producing it. Publishing, at the end of the day, is a business. The cost-to-sales issue is especially true in New Zealand.where runs are low and a typical book might only shift 2000 copies (more like 1000 these days). I recall various discussions years ago with the editorial team at Reed NZ which boiled down to (a) the ‘golden age’ of military history in New Zealand came and went during the early 2000s; and (b) they often fielded manuscripts on a wide range of non-fiction, which were very good in themselves but which weren’t likely to see enough sales to justify the cost of producing them.

      A sad reality unfortunately, at which point it’s really only possible for an author to turn to private publication. And the Mairangi group is doing some fantastic work! Good luck for your book!

      You may have had a lucky escape, though. Private publication is less likely to arouse the ire of the little clique of academics who own military history here. I discovered that the hard way when they exploded out of nowhere at me. one after another, with utterly vicious and unprovoked eruptions of public hostility towards my work, professionalism and integrity – all shrouded in the usual rubbish about their status rendering their opinions true (even when they were baseless), and all the rest of it.

      While that’s how academia works, of course, it’s not appropriate when launched against commercially published work from someone outside their world, and I actually found it quite disturbing to think that work which I’d published wholly on merit, without financial support, and achieved wholly alone, could provoke such savage anger from complete strangers who have full-time salaries, job titles that give status, paid research trips, sabbaticals and every other advantage over me in the field. The moral compass of this behaviour is put in due perspective by the fact that not one of these people has had the guts to approach me directly about their public assaults on my repute and income (via damage to my book sales).. Not one. I kept paying their salaries, of course, through my taxes (and you will have, too).

  3. It’s interesting in NZ because my understanding is that these are the two main players there, so now there is only one? In other countries, they just become a bigger player, not the only player. That is what would concern me more, but I get that with the small size of the NZ market, maybe one big player is enough, it would be good to see more niche presses publishing work.

    • Yes, they’ll be one of the biggest publishers in New Zealand. The merger passed Commerce Commission scrutiny, though, so wasn’t judged a monopoly. Several of the other main houses are fairly well represented here, effectively as branches from offices in Sydney. Beyond that are a handful of significant locally-founded companies, plus the university presses. Massey’s de facto press, Dunmore, is still going – they published one of my early academic books, and just last year they tracked me down with a royalty payment for it. Very impressive.

      The raft of niche presses here is variable. There are a few really good ones, along with a lot of owner-operator ventures of varying professionalism that tend to come and go like dreams. Part of the transience derives from the point that a proportion are set up by subject enthusiasts who couldn’t get their doorstop-scale fact collections published by the main houses, then either founded companies or created an imprint for the purpose, themselves – but who lack any sense of what constitutes a saleable book.

  4. […] Penguin Random House and me (mjwrightnz.wordpress.com) […]

  5. Even with a tuxedo, I doubt you could pass for a random penguin. ;-)

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