Publishers, Weakly: What The Penguin/Random House Merger Really Means

Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 04:41 PM.

I have no pity for the fallen publishers.  In Wall Street terms, there isn’t enough lipstick in the world to make these pigs kissable.  They had the responsibility to shape society by providing it with books worth reading, to create a cultural legacy for our generation and generations to come.  And instead, what did they give us?

Ann Coulter, Navy SEALs, and Fifty Shades of Gray.

The publishers will blame everyone in sight for their predicament, but this is a self-inflicted wound; what the Brits would call an “own goal.”

You can’t run a successful business passively waiting for people (in this case, literary agents) to tell you what you should produce.

You can’t run a successful business by throwing 10,000 strands of spaghetti (or 10,000 books a year, in Random House’s case) against the wall of public opinion and seeing what sticks.

You can’t run a successful business selling information in the form of printed books by putting them on trucks to distant cities, hoping that booksellers (anyone who can fog a mirror, run a cash register and repeat the phrase, “We don’t have it but we could order it for you”) will actively work to sell your stuff to people.

Bottom line:  you can’t run a successful business when you are essentially competing with yourself.  If Barnes & Noble doesn’t sell a Simon & Schuster book within three weeks, it sends the book back to Simon & Schuster, at Simon & Schuster’s expense, only to have that same space on the shelf filled with…wait for it…a different Simon & Schuster book.



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