Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Random House and Penguin are still awaiting verdicts from global fair trade organizations to finalize their planned merger, but that certainly hasn’t left them standing idle. Last week, Publisher’s Lunch announced a move by Random House to decentralize its publishing operations. According to the newsletter:
Going forward, individual publishers and imprints will manage their own trade paperbacks, “allowing each title’s original publication team to focus on and publish the book through its full life cycle: hardcover, eBook, and paperback.”
In the past, Random House’s organizational structure published many paperbacks through paperback-specific imprints. In many ways, that system made sense: promotion for new-in-paperback titles is by nature a slightly different process than promotion for new titles, and paperbacks can frequently be placed in markets they would not have been successful in as more expensive hardcover versions.
But as we continue to develop a new understanding of books as a unit of content rather than a unit of content packaging, consolidating all formats under one roof seems to be a forward-thinking move—especially if there comes a time when electronic formats usurp the paperback’s position as the general public’s lower-cost version of choice—or should enhanced ebooks do the same for hardcover.
Could this also create better relationships between Random House’s publishing teams and the authors that write for them? By giving a single publishing team the responsibility for making a book successful through its entire life cycle, authors’ interaction with their publishing team extends over a longer period of time. And could this, by extension, be a way of major publishing houses beginning to specialize? Or is it just a tactical move to prepare for the Penguin-Random House joint venture?
Regardless, it certainly reflects a recognition that different book formats as a sort of customer-oriented “suite” of content solutions instead of a set of discrete business models. Consolidating all formats under one leadership team may also pave the way to identify opportunities, and foster the execution of, enhanced ebooks, apps, or other content repackaging.
How people are going to prefer to read in the next three years—let alone the next five or ten—is poised for potentially dramatic changes. But Random House seems prepared to ride that wave to wherever it may lead.