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Publishing News (07.12.2020)

PRH and Simon & Schuster Merger could be Bad News for the Industry

By Molly Anna Chell

The news that Penguin Random House has bought Simon and Schuster in a $2.2 bn deal was the biggest piece of news in the trade industry at the end of November. PRH first expressed their interest in acquiring Simon and Schuster back in September. Although the deal first needs to get through competition checks, Markus Dohle, PRH’s Chief Executive, said he was confident the merger would be approved. However, many have worried about the impact the creation of a megapublisher will have on the industry. This article will assess the likely impact upon authors, readers, competition and industry employees.

Layoffs are usually inevitable when any two businesses merge together, bad news for an industry that has more people hoping to get a foot in the door than available jobs. Both PRH and Simon and Schuster have been recruiting over the last few months, but once plans for the merger have been finalised will some staff be made redundant? Mr Karp, the Chief Operating Officer of SS said it was too early to say whether there would be redundancies, or streamlining of editorial and marketing departments. This implies redundancies will be on the table. The Critical Mass reported that when Penguin and Random House merged in 2013, job cuts resulted and there were even some closures of their most adventurous literary imprints. Financial concerns are likely to be at the top of the agenda this time around, increasing the risk that publishing becomes all about the money rather than fuelling culture.

There is a feeling that Amazon is the reasoning behind the merger, in the hope that a combined PRHSS will have more power to take on the online giant and negotiate better terms for the industry. Considering that PRH has never used its status to take on Amazon before, it can be questioned how much difference the acquisition of Simon and Schuster will make to their bargaining position. Surely greater regulations are the answer? Amazon sells 49% of books so is unlikely to feel threatened by the new larger publisher. There is little that can be done to tackle the giant unless consumers can be persuaded to change their buying habits. The Atlantic argued that the proposed merger isn’t the gravest danger to the industry, as it was taking place within the wider context of this struggle against Amazon. However, in trying to be part of the solution, PRHSS may only further exacerbate the problem of reduced competition in the market. Executives tried to assure the industry that competition would not be decreased, as Simon and Schuster is likely to be incorporated into PRH’s policy of allowing their imprints to compete against one another.

Competition between publishers particularly benefits authors, as they have more companies bidding for their product and higher advances as a result. The new publisher will find themselves in a greater position of power relative to authors in negotiations. It will also fuel the trend for blockbusters that has been noticeable in the industry over the last few years. When the EU Commission considered the merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013, the number of blockbusters wasn’t considered part of the market and a signal of their monopoly. With their importance in the industry today, surely the competition checks must take them into account? PRH and SS both profess their support for debut authors, but how does this align with their goals to have as many titles at the top of the charts as possible? There has certainly been a reduction in the market for midlist books over the last decade with the focus now on brand name authors. Jason Pinter, an author and the founder of Polis Books said: “I worry that it’s going to force authors out of the industry.”

The opposition of the Author’s Guild to the sale shows that there is real concern over the impact this will have on authors and how it will change the culture of the industry. Where commercial bestsellers are the focus, readers are also affected. They will be presented with a reduced variety, with publishers less willing to take risks on more adventurous titles like the political books Simon and Schuster have become well known for. However, this could benefit independent publishers and make their books more of a draw for readers who are tired of the same formula. In contrast Dohle was certain that the merger would be good for both authors and readers, arguing that Simon and Schuster will retain its editorial independence.

Overall, it doesn’t feel like this merger was necessary, and it’s unclear what the benefits will be. The market needs more publishers, not fewer. I and the other members of the news team hope if the merger goes ahead, they will at least call themselves Simon’s Random House of Penguins.

Academic Libraries to Take their Row Over Pricing to the CMA

By Katie Gough

Johanna Anderson, the Librarian at the University of Gloucestershire, has organised an open letter calling for an investigation into the excessive pricing of academic e-books. Pricing that Anderson calls a “scandal”.

The campaign’s website states that “the current situation is not working and it needs to change.” Calling the ebook publishing industry “deeply flawed”, the letter calls on those who are increasingly unable to provide resources to students and lecturers due to scandalous prices and confusing licenses. The arguments are that learning is suffering, and the system is “broken”.

Citing a few examples, an economics book costs £44 for a print copy, but is £324 for a single e-book user. A book on working in childcare costs £1,045 for unlimited online access for a year, but is £30 to buy in print.

On price rises, the letter reads: “Price rises are common, sudden and appear arbitrary. We can name at least two well-known academic publishers who raised the cost for a single-user ebook by 200% or more with no warning”

Taylor and Francis commented that “Comparing individual print costs to a digital licence which gives access to many readers does not represent the reality of how the different formats are used”.

At the time of writing, there were over 2,700 UK signatures.

On 19 November, there was a disappointing response from the Education Select Committee, stating that they have no “capacity for further inquiries”. The case has now been taken to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), as publishers have been behaving unfairly during COVID-19. (The government currently has an online service to report businesses using the pandemic to their advantage). The case claims the issue aligns with the government guidelines on anti-competitive behaviour.

On 23 November, the campaign received an email from Oxford University Press (OUP), who are cited as “one of the worst culprits”. The letter expressed that the press had been working hard over the summer on their “digital offerings” and offered a virtual meeting to discuss things in more detail.

Senior Lecturer at University of Gloucestershire, and campaign supporter, Dr Rachel Sumner, responded with lines such as “The very recent habit of publishers massively hiking up their e-book prices in what I can only assume is a cynical response to the Covid-19 pandemic is a particularly unpleasant trend that I believe that OUP have participated in.” The email concluded with: “I do very much hope this response gets fed back to those that make [pricing] decisions so that a different strategy may be employed.”

Comments support the cause with one reading: “this equates to burning books, access must be available”.

The cause can be followed on twitter with the hashtag #StudentsDeserveBetter

The Diaries of Alan Rickman Set to be Published in Autumn 2022

By Lucy Downer

Photo by Andrew Cowie/EPA

The diaries of the late, great actor Alan Rickman are set to be published in the Autumn of 2022. The collection titled The Diaries of Alan Rickman will consist of 27 handwritten volumes of his ‘witty, gossipy and utterly candid’ take on both his acting career and his personal life, spanning a period of 25 years.

Canongate have acquired the rights to Rickman’s diaries, and have announced that the collection will be edited by Alan Taylor. Taylor is known for being the editor of the Scottish Review of Books, and for compiling The Country Diaries for Canongate: a collection of pastoral journals by the likes of Beatrix Potter, Dorothy Wordsworth and John Fowles.

Rickman wrote the diaries with the intention and hope that they would one day be published. He began writing them in the early 1990s after his acting career had been launched on stage through his involvement with the Royal Shakespeare Company. By this time, he was also well-known for his roles as the villain Hans Gruber in the 1988 epic Die Hard, the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and as the late husband of Juliet Stevenson in the 1991 romance Truly, Madly, Deeply.

He wrote right up until his death in 2016 from pancreatic cancer at the age of just 69. The diaries also span the period in Rickman’s life during which he became involved with the Harry Potter franchise, Love, Actually and the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, during which time he became a household name that spanned the generations.

The Diaries of Alan Rickman will expose the actor’s innermost thoughts on his profession and his own career. The collection will give fans an insight into Rickman’s politics, friendships and behind-the-scene stories of his time on stage and screen.

The synopsis, released by Canongate, summaries the collection: ‘Hand-written, starting in the early 1990s and kept for the rest of his life, the diaries offer a rare insight into the mind of the man and the artistic, social and political worlds he inhabited. […] The diaries paint a rare portrait of a world-class actor, a tireless political activist, an avid traveller and a devoted friend.’

For both existing fans and anyone interested in gaining an insight into the world of one of the UK’s best loved actors, this collection will be eagerly anticipated.


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