Penguin Random House: A Sign of Mergers to Come?

Prior to 2013, the publishing industry was vastly different than it looks today. I’ve already mentioned the “Big 5” players of the industry in past blog posts (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster), but prior to  July 1st, 2013, the “Big 5” was actually the “Big 6.”

The merger of Penguin and Random House has arguably been one of the biggest changes in the publishing industry since the introduction of e-books in 2007 with the Kindle. The merger has been referred to as a “mega-merger,” with a house that will now “control a quarter of world book publishing.” That’s not just 25% of the US publishing market, but the global market. That means this merger creates a new global house, with “locations in about 20 countries around the world, including China, India, all major English-speaking countries and many countries in the Spanish-speaking world,” and a control over about 40% of the US market.

As with all industries, company mergers tend to come with a lot of headaches – there’s concern’s from employees over the potential loss of benefits or change in workplace atmosphere. The Penguin Random House merger has worries employees, no doubt, but it also causes tension in the industry at large. According to an article published by the New York Times the day following the merger,”[t]here are no immediate plans for laying off employees or closing imprints. Both Penguin and Random House have long leases on their buildings in Manhattan, so they will not work from the same building anytime soon — maybe not for at least a decade, Mr. Dohle said.”

This merger has also concerned a number of professionals in the industry at large. Just eight days after the merger was completed, another article posted in the New York Times discussed the possible impending dangers caused by the merger, such as the increasing disregard for the individual brands of the imprints that form these large houses, and issues it may cause agents and writers (both Penguin and Random House either forbid or restrict their imprints from bidding against one another for the same manuscript) which could lead to smaller and smaller advances.

I think it’s also important to consider what this means for the remainder of the Big 5 – with the consolidation of two major players in the industry, should we expect to see similar mergers in the future? It’s a scary possibility that many writers, agents, and readers may have to soon face.