Scale models

At the start of July, Penguin and Random House completed their merger and began operating as a single entity. Well, it is a single entity with a reported 250 imprints that will release an estimated 15,000 new titles this year – about 60 new titles per imprint.

Let the integration begin!

I don't know if it's heresy, but I just don't find this merger very interesting. The favoring premise is scale: Amazon has it; publishers need it; the merger provides it.

With projected annual revenues of $3.9 billion, the combined company will represent a fairly significant portion of the trade publishing market. Most projections I've seen estimate that the new company will earn a quarter of all U.S. trade publishing revenues.

Its share of title count is a different matter. In recent years, between 2 million and 4.5 million new titles have been released each year. Measured against overall output, a publisher releasing 15,000 new books represents less than 1% of the total new product available.

I know, these are long-tail titles with almost no legitimate way to get shelf space in bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. But in 2012, 43.8% of book sales took place online (up 18.7 percentage points in just two years). Amazon and other online businesses already support direct sales of self-published works.

I like bookstores and I can see reasons why self-published authors would want them to survive. But the scale argument fundamentally makes a case for physical books sold in physical realms. What happens now that anyone can publish and a plurality of the market buys online? 

The same day that Penguin Random House formalized its merger, Laura Hazard Owen posted "Six digital publishing startups to watch". Here's how she described these six companies, all "still working out some quirks and rolling out new features":

Three of them — Periodical, 29th Street Publishing and Creatavist — let you create and sell mobile-friendly magazines, ebooks and newsletters; the other three — Postach.io, Ghost and Glipho — aim to let you blog in a new way.

In other words, here are six new companies, half of whom make it straightforward to create, publish and monetize content across digital platforms, and half of whom help you market what you publish. The upfront costs for publishing are measured in dozens to hundreds of dollars. You add your own time.

Truth be told, new publishing tools are breaking out all over. In an era in which established publishers talk openly about how little they understand discovery in this new, online-first marketplace, it might fall to writers using low- and no-cost tools to show them what they missed.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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