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Big Pub News

If you care about books, you probably already know about the merger of Random House and Penguin to create the world’s largest consumer publishing operation. If approved as expected, the merger means this co-joined company will control about one-quarter of global book sales. In other words, it just became that infamous 800-pound gorilla.

So what does this mean to us, people who value reading and books? Well, hard to tell for sure, but it’s likely we’ll now see other publishing mergers in the very near future. No one will want to wind up on the wrong side of the tracks when the Penguin/Random colossus comes steamrolling through. One of the things the new publisher may want to do is develop plans for selling its products direct to consumers. Don’t think the folks at Amazon haven’t been spending some sleepless nights thinking about that possibiity. There’s also the likelihood of new digital platforms for printed materials, and I have no idea where that might lead in a few years.

Officials of the new company say they won’t be getting rid of their well-known imprints (could we imagine a world without Alfred A. Knopf?), and they insist that editorial independence will not be compromised. That would be nice. I am curious as to what may happen to authors, who wouldn’t seem to be deriving a lot of benefits from this and future mergers. Publishers will always need authors, but with fewer publishers, authors may find it even trickier to get good contracts, and the results may be to squeeze out even more talented writers. If your name is Stephen King, that won’t be an issue, of course. For first-time novelist Joe Smith, it could mean no contract or a lower-paying contract since there won’t be as many publishing houses to market his manuscript.

But I grant you that’s all a bit premature. The only thing for certain is that we don’t yet know anything for certain. The merger may prove good or bad for consumers. But given the rather shaky business condition of the publishing industry as a whole, it may not be a bad thing to shore up some of its key elements.

So stay tuned. We’ll all watch and see whether this new global giant turns out to be a good guy — or an ogre.

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