What Happens When a Publisher Becomes a Megapublisher?

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“The industry is healthier than it’s ever been, and all those fears raised at the time of the Penguin and Random House merger, none of them ever ended up materializing,” Mr. Malaviya said. “The key reason why we haven’t done the things people were afraid of is that it’s not in our interest. We want to keep independent bookstores open. We don’t want the market more dominated by a single retailer. ”

Indeed, throughout publishing, apprehension about this merger tends to wither in comparison to fears about Amazon, which has become only more powerful in the book world during the pandemic.

“In today’s market, they are very much a force for good and protection and normalization,” James Daunt, the chief executive of Barnes & Noble, said of Penguin Random House. “I’m spending much more time talking about Amazon than I am talking about Penguin Random House, or Penguin Random House plus Simon & Schuster.”

Jonathan Karp, chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said in a statement that joining up with Penguin Random House was “the best possible outcome” for his company. “Our combined resources will allow us reach even more readers, while also maintaining the kind of editorial and entrepreneurial independence that Penguin Random House has long championed among its publishers.”

Bertelsmann, which owns Penguin Random House, seems confident that the merger will be approved, and the deal includes what’s called a termination fee that Bertelsmann must pay if the Biden administration does not approve the deal. But there is still much for regulators to untangle, and plenty for antitrust lawyers to do.

“It’s a good kind of lawyer to be, because it’s a big argument,” said Mr. Gordon, the University of Michigan professor. “And in the end, boy, you cross your fingers, because it’s a judgment call.”

Edmund Lee contributed reporting.

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