While Penguin and Random House have merged to create the world’s leading publisher, the road ahead has not yet been determined
When publishing giants Penguin and Random House merged earlier this week to form Penguin Random House, the news was greeted on Twitter by humorous speculations about other possible names of the joint venture. Ranguin, Penguin House and Random Penguin were some of the suggestions. But the possibilities that emerge from this merger go beyond the merely humorous.
The new publishing group, which will be effective from the second half of 2013 onwards, subject to merger approvals and clearances, will “include all the publishing divisions and imprints of Random House and Penguin in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, as well as Penguin’s publishing company in China, and Random House’s Spanish-language publishing operations in Spain and Latin America.”
But in what ways will the vision and size of the two publishing houses and their imprints be affected? “It’s very hard to know what the future company is going to be like. It’s far too early to comment on the day-to-day practicalities,” said Caroline Newbury, vice president, marketing and publicity, Random House Publishers India Pvt. Ltd.
In India, Penguin has a co-publishing arrangement with Zubaan Books whereby around five titles are published each year and distributed by Penguin. Speaking about the future of this tie-up, Urvashi Butalia, publisher, Zubaan, said, “We will have to wait and see how things filter down from the international to the domestic level. But we expect that it’ll continue.”
Waiting is the order of the day even for Rupa and Co., a direct competitor of Penguin and Random House in the Indian market. “They have both said that it is going to be business as usual till 2014. So until they make their marketing and publishing strategies clear, it is too early to say whether they are a threat or not,” said Kapish Mehra, managing director, Rupa and Co. His views were echoed by Paul Vinay Kumar, publisher, Westland Ltd. “We are all waiting to see what happens. We have a giant entity but I am not sure if it is a threat yet really.”
The merger happened against the backdrop of reports that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, approached Pearson with a cash offer, estimated to be about £1 billion. Subsequently, Murdoch is reported to have called the deal a “faux merger” wherein two publishers trying to contract were saying the very opposite. But the publishers refused to respond to this charge.
A combined organisation will have broader size and reach and will be better positioned to invest in digital platforms and negotiate with partners. But consolidations of this kind also raise concerns about the ecosystem of books and its future.
“The publishing scene becomes much less varied. Independent publishing will continue to remain at the bottom, doing the most interesting things, and the big publishers will dominate at the top. Choices for us will get more limited as these mergers keep happening,” Butalia said.
But Arpita Das, publisher, Yoda Press, is neither excited nor paranoid at it. “I would have been excited if a small, independent publisher collaborated with a large publisher. But the Penguin Random House merger is really only about numbers. It has no influence on my sphere of experience – the only thing I can do is tweet about it.”