Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
By KEIRA LYONS
Last week, fellow Appazoogler Emily Picillo reported on the controversy surrounding Penguin and their decision to suddenly and inexplicably pull its titles from the popular OverDrive ebook lending app. Despite that negative publicity, Penguin landed on its feet a week later with the December 2 announcement of CEO David Shanks as Publishers Weekly Person of the Year 2011.
This news could not have come at a better time for Penguin. Publisher’s Weekly Co-Editorial Director, Jim Milliot, noted that “no executive within the industry has done a better job of balancing the often conflicting demands of supporting an existing print infrastructure with investing in digital businesses.” Milliot goes on to say that “Penguin has seen e-book sales soar, with sales more than doubling in the first six months of 2011. Helped by the boost in e-book sales, the profit margin for the entire Penguin Group inched up slightly in the first six months of 2011 to 9.2% from 8.9%.” In this context, ebooks have been the source of positive publicity for Penguin’s image. Ebooks represent both exciting new opportunities and impending doom for the large trade publishers, and that dichotomy is something publishers continue to struggle with.
Apparently, the “if you won’t play by my rules, I’m taking my ball and I’m going home” attitude that Penguin has exhibited in the OverDrive/Amazon debacle has not yet affected Shanks’ reputation, though it has certainly affected the company’s. By participating in the OverDrive program, Penguin had made a visible effort to embrace the digital revolution rather than resist it; but the hasty action taken in late November against OverDrive and all of its affiliated libraries negates that effort entirely.