I believe in the future of literary fiction: Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle

“Let me mention three main trends in publishing. First, a significant sales shift toward online/e-commerce. Second, the growth of digital audio books. And third, the strength of print”.

February 15, 2018 12:15 am | Updated 12:34 pm IST

Markus Dohle is the global Chief Executive Officer of Penguin Random House, the world’s largest trade book publisher. Additionally, he is Chairman of the Association of American Publishers and serves on the PEN Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. Excerpts from an email interview:

The playwright David Hare said that the two most depressing words in the English language are “literary fiction”. What is your sense of the future of literary fiction? People are reading more than ever, but is there still a place for longer, textured novels?

I believe in the future of literary fiction. I think fiction is more important than ever in today’s world because it helps people escape from the never-ending news cycle by immersing themselves in great stories and complex characters. Additionally, the repeating nature of fiction makes it the most sustaining and viable category in publishing.

The obituary of the book is written every time a new threat occurs — the e-book, Amazon and its crushing effect on independent booksellers, Netflix — and yet, books in paper form have continued to survive. What do you think the future of the book will be?

Bright. Let me give you five reasons. First, book markets have been growing over the last 15 years since the digital transformation started. Second, we have relatively stable business models for print and e-books. Third, we’ve reached a healthy coexistence between print and digital formats. Fourth, international book markets have tailwind from demographic change, a growing world population, and growing literacy rates. And finally, children’s and young adult books have been the fastest-growing categories of the last decade.

What are the most exciting technological innovations and platforms in publishing, and what future global trends do you foresee?

Let me mention three main trends in publishing. First, a significant sales shift toward online/e-commerce. Second, the growth of digital audio books. And third, the strength of print. As publishers, we will continue to be format-agnostic and laser-focussed on publishing the finest stories. In India, I’m excited about a new e-shorts imprint we are launching called Penguin Petit. We are curating the content for this new platform from our physical books in the fiction, children’s, self help, erotica, and mythology genres, to name a few. Each e-short will be about 50 pages, designed for easy consumption on digital devices at a highly accessible price.

Penguin Random House India recently invited actor Priyanka Chopra to deliver its annual lecture. Many felt that a uniquely literary space was being overtaken by a celebrity. What is the role of publishers in protecting these literary spaces, while conceding that commercial gains often fuel these spaces? Is it important to have these spaces, or is this an elitist view?

Priyanka Chopra’s lecture was a huge success and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, the video of the talk alone has garnered several million views. As publishers, we stand for diverse voices and personalities, and clearly [hers] is an important voice. The Penguin Annual Lecture has always been a platform for artists across different professions and industries. We see it as a forum for writers, but also with a wider scope, for achievers and cultural icons across other industries as well.

In 2014, Penguin Random House withdrew Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History . Many felt that the case for freedom of speech was not fought hard enough on her behalf. As a PEN board member and publisher, what are the instances when this freedom comes at a cost? Since the Doniger case, the climate in India regarding censorship has only intensified. Has Penguin Random House revisited the Doniger case and its commitment to its authors’ right to freedom of speech?

Publishers around the world are trying to navigate the terrain of freedom of expression in the context of different regions, territories, cultures, local circumstances or even challenges faced around a particular issue. Our goal remains the same: to make diverse voices and opinions heard.

Tishani Doshi is a writer, dancer, and poet

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