There have been acquisitions aplenty. E-book technology has effected a seismic transformation. Economic and social changes across the world have meant that revenues from the emerging markets such as India, China and Brazil have greatly risen in importance. Yet, through all this churn, the Big Six have remained dominant in book publishing since the mid-1980s. So, what is being heralded as the biggest deal in the book business may indeed be something of that order: the international media groups Bertelsmann and Pearson announced yesterday that they will combine the activities of their respective trade-book publishing companies, Random House and Penguin Group. If Penguinís imprints include majors like Hamish Hamilton and Putnam, Randomís include Alfred A Knopf and Doubleday. If Penguinís authors include heavyweights like Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, Junot DŪaz, Ken Follett and Zadie Smith, Randomís include John Grisham, Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie. Together, the merged entity (already popularly nicknamed Random Penguin) will account for an impressive 25% of English books worldwide. Merger terms are clear with Bertelsmann claiming 53% (on account of its current top-dog status) and Pearson 47%, as are leadership terms with Bertelsmann getting to appoint five representatives to the groupís Board of Directors as compared to Pearsonís four. HarperCollins-owner News Corpís all-cash temptation also seems to have been overcome. But can the same be said of the real threat that the merger is aimed to overcome?
Call it AAG. Apple cooked up the iBookstore, Google pioneered digital book scanning, and Amazon did the rest. Except, the fiery e-book technology just keeps churning out change. Lev Grossman has written that the last time a change of this magnitude hit the book was in circa 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type, or in the first century AD when Western readers discarded the scroll in favour of the codex. So it is that the most successful book of 2012 began life in a digitally self-published form, sans the support of either the tech giants or the traditional ones. If Random is ruling the roost today, it is not least because it finally picked up EL Jamesís Shades trilogy. Together, Random and Penguin, hope to fight back Amazon by synergising printing, warehousing and like capabilities. But nobody can take a safe bet on how much these will continue to matter. What if Amazon manages to finally push through print-on-demand?