On 1 July, leading publishing houses Penguin and Random House announced a merger in select markets. Penguin Random House will combine the adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction print and digital trade book publishing businesses of Penguin and Random House in various markets, including India.
The other countries where this merger will be in effect are US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Penguin Random House will employ more than 10,000 people across five continents. It will comprise nearly 250 editorially and creatively independent imprints and publishing houses that will collectively publish more than 15,000 new titles annually.
Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said of the merger, ‘Penguin Random House is the first truly global trade book publishing company. As separate companies, Penguin and Random House have performed outstandingly by every benchmark; as colleagues, Penguin Random House will share and apply the same passion for publishing the best books with enormous experience, creativity, and entrepreneurial drive. Together, Penguin Random House will give authors unprecedented resources to help them reach global audiences—and we will provide readers with unparalleled diversity and choice for future reading. ’
Explaining how the merger will affect publishing in India, a spokesperson for the company added, ‘Penguin Random House will have an unrivalled list of authors across the globe and within India. We are proud to publish every single one of our authors and within Penguin Random House we represent some of the subcontinent’s biggest names from literary fiction greats such as Anita Desai, Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Khushwant Singh, Mohammed Hanif, Nadeem Aslam and Kiran Desai to popular novelists such as Shobha De, Ravinder Singh, Durjoy Datta and Sudeep Nagarkar. The combined list will also include respected non-fiction authorities such as Gucharan Das, Amartya Sen, Mark Tully and Ramachandra Guha. In addition to this we will now distribute some of the world's biggest international authors and are also looking forward to discovering brand new talents and voices and bringing them into print.’
But the impact of the the merger on the publishing industry in the country extends beyond Penguin and Random House or Penguin Random House. The merger is likely to shrink the market for independent publishers in the country. Explains Renu Kaul Verma, managing director, Vitasta Publishing, ‘The coming together of Random House and Penguin will dent the market definitely. There will be infusion of big money and emergence of a predatory existence whereby smaller players will find it difficult to survive. Together they will tread into the areas that they had not so far gone into. Pengin has already gone into regional publishing in a big way. It has also formally opened a division where all the services will be paid. Now, with Random House, it will also go into high reference academic books.’
Renu adds, ‘Based on a 2009 report, the criterion sketched out by UGC about teacher's contribution to R&D activities gives 20 points to the teachers who get their work published by the international publishers and 10 points by a national or local publisher. Naturally, with greater resources the duo will poach authors from the smaller independent publishers. And authors too will be more than willing to go for the bigger international brands.
‘As far as distribution of books is concerned, there too they will have an edge. Indians suffer from a colonial hangover even today. Because readers want to read the foreign authors, retailers play it safe and store foreign authors or books published by foreign brands. Flipkart that had over 800 vendors, both independent small publishers and the bigger ones like Penguin, Harper and Random House, now plans to reduce it to 60. It goes without saying that these 60 vendors will have very few small independent publishers.’
The answer may lie in finding one’s USP. Like Srishti, which in the past few years have emerged as a platform for debutante authors with a story to tell (often light, commercial fiction or romance). Says a spokesperson for Srishti, ‘We at Srishti have been so deeply involved in giving debut authors chances to tell their stories, working passionately with them on each aspect of their book, and making them available to the masses at affordable prices, that we do not take the “control” factor (by big publishers) into account. Independent publishers work with motives very different from those of so-called “publishing giants”.’ But beware. There might be competition for the right over young and irreverent romances and commerical novels, with both Penguin and Random House having already indenpendently set sight over works such as Ravinder Singh’s Like it happened yesterday and Chetan
Chhatwal’s 55: A Novel.