On Monday, Penguin Books and Random House, two of the Big 6 publishers, announced they were merging in order to better compete in the global marketplace. The new company, to be called Penguin Random House, will become the largest book publishing company in the world, with a market share of more than 25 percent and an impressive list of authors and titles.
According to industry experts, the merger will allow the new company to deal with the challenges arising from the growth of electronic books, and allow them to better compete with large Internet retailers, like Google, Apple and, especially, Amazon. These companies have vast resources to invest in new technology, like digital sales platforms, and their size allows them negotiate better terms on prices.
So how will this change things for speculative fiction? The answer is currently unclear.
Both Penguin and Random House have science fiction and fantasy imprints, and have distribution deals with some independently owned publishers, such as DAW books. According to Penguin and Random House, the merger will allow them to share costs and invest more money in their writers, but there is also concern that there will be fewer options for authors looking to get their books published, as the “Big 6″ will be reduced to the “Bigger 5.” How this plays out will depend on whether the new Penguin Random House continues to operate under the current model, where different imprints within each group bid and compete against each other.
According to John Makinson, chairman of the new conglomerate, this is what will happen. “The publishing imprints of the two companies will remain as they are today, competing for the very best authors and the very best books,” Makinson said in a letter to employees. If true, this suggest authors’ options won’t be significantly reduced, so perhaps there will be little negative impact on authors.
It appears that this merger is only the first of more to come among the traditional publishers. HarperCollins has already signaled its interest in consolidation, and apparently considered making its own bid for Penguin. Having failed, HarperCollins will likely pursue a merger with one of the other “Big 6.” Regardless of what happens to traditional publishing houses, the rules of the publishing game have and continue to change. Over the coming years, it’ll be interesting to see if traditional publishers can compete in the changing publishing landscape.