Tag Archives: Penguin

Amazon and Penguin Random House agree to contract

Amazon has signed a new contract with Penguin Random House, Publishers Weekly reports. Penguin Random House represents the last of the Big Five (nee Big Six) publishers and the last of the “Agency Five” (well, the Penguin half does, anyway) to agree to new terms.

This brings an end to any possibility that there could be a repeat of the months-long Hachette unpleasantness. It’s impossible to know whether Amazon or PRH got the better deal since the terms are not being disclosed, but both sides seem to have learned well the lessons of all the fireworks over the Hachette affair—none of the subsequent four big publisher negotiations has produced so much as a sparkler.

As Nate Hoffelder points out at Ink, Bits, and Pixels, the aftermath of the other four deals was to see publishers’ e-book prices rise and the subsequent absence of discounting. It will be interesting to see if this holds true for PRH, too—though my suspicion is that it probably will. Amazon would likely try for the best terms it could get, but I doubt they would be too far away from the ones it was willing to offer to other publishers, even if they can no longer communicate among themselves the way they did in agency days. When I checked yesterday, the price of Random House’s The Martian e-book was a remarkably low (for a major publisher) $5.99. I wonder if it will go up in days to come?

So, in the end, what did the agency pricing trial buy us, apart from a few more years of cheaper e-books and an amusing feud between Apple and the Department of Justice? Well, maybe those few more years were enough. The e-book market has further matured, we’ve gotten more data about how pricing affects the sales of e-books, and the publishers have at least stopped colluding so openly. We even have new models for e-book sales popping up, with Kindle Unlimited and Oyster showing it can be done all-you-can-eat style.

Even as early as the settlement between the publishers and the DoJ, we knew that the publishers would still want to reimpose agency as soon as they could, even if they might be a bit wiser about how they did it by then. We had hoped Amazon would resist, and with Hachette they certainly did—and perhaps they won some concessions, but still had to grant some of their own in the end.

I suppose a pricing model invented for physical books doesn’t necessarily make the most sense for electronic ones anyway. We can at least hope that changes to the market pressure publishers into keeping their prices as low as they might.

Mick Rooney calls out Bertelsmann on possible Penguin Random House takeover


leopard-seal-eats-penguin-3-510x600Over at The Independent Publishing Magazine, Mick Rooney has just aired the possibility of a full-on Bertelsmann SE takeover of Penguin Random House, taking up Pearson plc’s current position and advancing its stake from anywhere between the current 53 percent and 100 percent. This follows a Bloomberg article aired at the time of last autumn’s Frankfurt Book Fair, and a recent follow-up Wall Street Journal article, hinging on the expiry of a three-year lock-up period on the Pearson stake, dating from the original deal. Now is the time, evidently.

The WSJ article quotes Bertelsmann Chief Executive Thomas Rabe as saying “we will keep up this brisk pace” of acquisitions, that moved at one a month during 2014. It also states that:

In October, Pearson will have the option to sell its stake, and Bertelsmann would then have the option of buying it. Bertelsmann hasn’t decided what to do, but says the book publishing business is doing very well, and that it seems sensible for Bertelsmann to take over the shares because publishing has been its core business for almost 200 years.

According to the WSJ, Penguin Random House contributed EUR3.3 billion ($3.7 billion) to Bertelsmann’s revenues in 2014. The WSJ also states that Rabe is reshaping “Bertelsmann’s core media businesses for the digital age. He is gradually selling waning businesses like print-publishing.” That definition, however, likely excludes Penguin Random House. Much of its chunky recent revenue came from film and other cross-media tie-ins. As Rabe said previously: “Together, we can and will invest on a much larger scale than separately in diverse content, author development and support, the publishing talent, the entire spectrum of physical and digital book acquisitions, production, marketing, and distribution, and also in fast-growing markets of the future.”

Rooney cites all this as a sign that “media corporations are embracing diversity while publishers continue to embrace consolidation.” Whether it changes Penguin Random House’s behavior at all remains to be seen. And a deal may not happen. All the same, watch this space.

Morning Links: Anne Rice to pen book on author bullying. Improve the homepage

anne riceAnne Rice to Pen Book on Author Bullying (Ink, Bits & Pixels)
Author and expert on bullying Anne Rice took to her Facebook page this weekend to announce her latest project: She’s writing a book on author bullying.

Penguin Classics Celebrates 80th (GalleyCat)
Penguin Classics is celebrating its 80th birthday by selling 80 of its Little Black Classics for 80 pence (about $1.25).

Forget Everything You Thought You Know About the Homepage (GigaOM)
Is that really the best we can do? Melody Kramer doesn’t think it is — or at least she would like people to think a little more outside the box, as it were.

No Second Year for Toronto Book Fair (PW)
The Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair announced Monday that the three-day consumer event, which debuted last November with an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 attendees, will not go forward in 2015.

Kindle Daily Deals: The Last Move (and others)

Penguin caught out cheating readers on Zoella book launch?

Showing the kind of ethics you would expect from the owners of Author Solutions, Penguin Random House has apparently been caught out in a lie over the launch of the bestseller Girl Online from social media celebrity Zoella (a.k.a. Zoe Sugg) previously covered in Teleread. Because, as reported in The Bookseller, Zoella was a.k.a. not-the-author, and the ghostwriter who actually penned most of the words, Siobhan Curham, received no credit. And the resulting shitstorm has been enough to drive Zoella herself off the medium that made her – the internet – at least temporarily. And now, The Guardian and many other sources are simply and directly asking: “How much of Girl Online did she really write?”

Sadly, Girl Online hasn’t got an Amazon Look Inside view, so I’m admittedly going by hearsay – an awful lot of it, though – in stating that there is no author credit in the book to Siobhan Curham. But the book’s strapline still reads “The incredible debut novel from YouTube phenomenon Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella.” Not: “The incredible debut novel partly from YouTube phenomenon Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, (with a little help from Siobhan Curham).”

Ghostwriter-driven author brand factories like James Patterson Inc. do at least, if they’re sensible, usually give their ghosts some credit, mostly on the front cover. When that doesn’t happen, as with V.C. Andrews, the consequences tend to be embarrassing. Looks like Penguin forgot that simple lesson, though – or chose to ignore it.

I’ve seen some skeptics on Teleread and elsewhere claim that it doesn’t really matter if a book gets ghostwritten, and that readers are as cynical about this as publishers. Well, a holiday gift-seasonal monsoon of spilt ink – and tweeted insults – has blown up to testify that it really does matter to readers, and to the public at large. A lot. So much, maybe, that it might have permanently damaged the career of a budding young celeb before she’s halfway out of the box. After all, if it matters enough to Zoella to shut her up at a critical time for riding the success of her admitted blockbuster, and cost her God knows how many promo gigs and spinoff money-spinning opportunities, then it matters, doesn’t it? And if it does that, Penguin, then it’s hardly a forgivable little part of everyday publishing business practice, is it?

Whether Zoella herself deserves to suffer from the backlash is still an open question. After all, it surely was Penguin’s decision, not hers, to give no credit to the ghostwriter and to continue the … ahem … fiction that Zoella wrote the whole of Girl Online herself. And what outed Penguin on this? Rumors on social media – exactly the same force that floated their latest cash cow (sorry, Zoella, no disrespect intended) in the first place. Seems like those who get inflated by social media will eventually be exploded by it.

Meanwhile, Penguin, brainchild of Allen Lane, historic force for social education and culture in the UK, once again it seems that under your new ownership you will lie and scam as much as it takes in order to make a quick buck. And you’ll play fast and loose with the fortunes of your bestselling authors just as readily as you will with your Author Solutions dupes. And now your ghost(writers) are rising up to haunt you this Christmas.

YouTube celeb Zoella shows author power of social media promotion

UK YouTube video blogger (a.k.a. vlogger) Zoella (a.k.a. Zoe Sugg) has become the poster child of near-instant social media auto-stardom – and now authorial success through the pre-sales of her book Girl Online, which as at the time of writing is Number One in the UK Amazon Best Seller charts, after “92 days in the top 100.” This echoes the previous point that YouTube celebs are now becoming hot property for hungry publishers.

As the author blurb describes her, Zoella “is a 24-year-old vlogger from Brighton, UK. Her beauty, fashion, and lifestyle vlogs have gained her over 5 million YouTube subscribers, and her views often exceed 12 million a month. She won the 2011 Cosmopolitan Blog Award for ‘Best Established Beauty Blog’ and went on to win the ‘Best Beauty Vlogger’ award the following year. In 2013 she was awarded the ‘Best British Vlogger’ award at the Radio 1 Teen Awards and the 2014 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award for ‘UK’s Favourite Vlogger’.” And no surprise to see Penguin, the new standard in no-holds-barred we’ll-print-anything mercenary publishing, there as the lucky publisher of the thinly glossed novelization of her stock in trade.

Parry Gripp burlesqued the whole angsty teen on YouTube thing brilliantly way back. However, seems that a hungry audience wants to take it straight – and equally hungry publishers are ready to cater to them. And Zoella looks ready to knock fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes off his perch as star UK YouTube-fostered author.

This isn’t to say that vlogging is totally inimical to maturity, intelligence, and even creative talent. Contrast, for an instructive moment, what Welcome to Night Vale has been able to do with the allied medium of the podcast. But then, Night Vale audiences aren’t desperate for makeup tips and boyfriend advice – except when the makeup is toxic sludge and the boyfriends have three eyes.

Coming soon to a publisher’s spring list near you: Parry Grip’s novelization of “Boogie Boogie Hedgehog” … Is it as cute as Zoella? Well …

Morning Roundup: OSX 10.10 Yosemite; Amazon monopsony and more


Kindle Daily Deal: Blue Monday (and others)

All the New Stuff in OSX 10.10 Yoesmite (Lifehacker)

Apple took the wraps off of OS X at the WorldWide Developer’s Conference today, dubbed “Yosemite.” It’ll feature a new interface with elements of iOS 7’s “flat” design and color scheme, new interface, updates to iCloud and Mail, features to sync iOS and OS X devices, and more.

Amazon Is Not a Monopoly or a Monopsony (Book Riot)

Hate Amazon if you must, opponents, but please, do not misuse terms that we all learned in high school economics

New Penguin Random House Logo Could be Cooler (Digital Book World)

There’s nothing random, house or penguin-like in the new corporate logo for Penguin Random House.

The University of Texas Launches McSweeney’s Archive (GalleyCat)

The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has introduced the McSweeney’s archive after acquiring the collection last year.

Bertelsmann CEO gives insights into European media moves

Bertelsmann Penguin Random House welcome bannerThe Financial Times has aired an exclusive interview with Thomas Rabe, CEO of Bertelsmann – Europe’s biggest media group, and one of its largest family-owned privately held businesses. Oh, and part owner alongside Pearson of Penguin Random House.

The Bertelsmann CEO admits that his charge may not only be disadvantaged compared to the likes of Google and Amazon, but also starting from a trailing position – which, however, has recently improved. “I honestly think that we have caught up massively in the past 15 to 18 months,” he says. This situation may be partly the result of the group’s response to new technology.  Rabe reports that the group has not exactly welcomed digital disruption with open arms. “Until two years ago at Bertelsmann, digitisation was primarily seen as a threat and not an opportunity,” he remarked to the FT. “People were looking for this famous red button to press to stop digitisation.”

It’s refreshing to hear that Rabe has led the company into more up-to-date attitudes regarding technology. The same goes for restructuring and M&A – Rabe led Bertelsmann through the merger of Random House with Penguin, and apparently the company still has more acquisitions targeted in new technology areas.

But the same forward vision may not cover corporate ownership. Rabe apparently is not going to be the one to take Bertelsmann public. Despite some limited share issuance for some units, such as broadcaster RTL, one of Europe’s largest publishing and media conglomerates remains safe from the disciplines of transparency and fiduciary accountability, and the possession of one family. Rupert Murdoch obviously is in good company.

Penguin Random House CEO makes great Dohle about growth, discoverability

penguin random housePenguin  Random House CEO Markus Dohle has given an interview with Buchreport.express, which has been shared with the German press. In it, he gives a status report on the integration of Penguin and Random house, particularly in Europe, as well as the company’s latest efforts in discoverability and other new horizons of publishing, which he describes as: “A lot of experiments, which also often fail .”

Dohle says for one thing that recent signs of publishing M&A picking up should not be taken too seriously – yet. “Much will depend on whether the Penguin Random House fusion works. In the positive case, other publishers will be motivated to go that route. Failure to achieve it, would be a bad sign not only for us but also for the entire industry.”

Dohle also states that. “For cracking the codes of discoverability, there is no panacea. This is a perennial paradigm shift from a highly commercially-oriented marketing to a more consumer-oriented advertising of books. It is important that readers find our books in the digital world and buy from our retail partners . This marketing innovation is a key strategic direction for us.” And as noted, he believes there are going to be as many failures as successes in this area for a while.

Oh, and for anyone who didn’t get the reference, “Dole: lamentation, from the Latin doleo, to grieve. ‘He [the dwarf] found the dead bodies, wherefore he made great dole’ —S. Lanier: King Arthur, book i. chap. xiv.

Beware Author Solutions, and never ever pay for publishing

Author SolutionsIf this isn’t Rule One of self-publishing, it should be:

You should never, ever, ever pay someone to publish your work for you. Full stop. End of sentence.

Now, it’s fine to pay for useful services, of course. If you can afford it, it could be a good investment to pay someone to edit your work, or to design your cover art, or even to format your book for you if you don’t feel confident of your own skills in that regard. (Though I’d honestly recommend paying $40 for Scrivener and spending a few days learning how to use it instead. It produces clean, professional-looking EPUBs that pass validation checks. You don’t need more than that for most projects.)

But when it comes to actually publishing the work, reputable places will publish it for you for free, then take their money as a percentage of the book’s retail sales. For example, Amazon will either take 70% or 35%, depending on which program you go with and which price point you set. Even if you let them take the lion’s share, that’s still a better deal than you’d get from a traditional publisher. Even if you’re self-publishing in print, when you have free-to-use print-on-demand programs like CreateSpace, there’s absolutely no reason to pay setup or advertising fees.

Have you ever stopped to think about what an incredible bargain that is? Ten or fifteen years ago, the only way to self-publish was to pay for your books to be printed and then hand-sell them. While a few people like Robert Ringer or Christopher Paolini were able to make that work, for most people it was effectively an expensive sop to their vanity—hence the derisive nickname “vanity publishing.” But now you can publish a story for cash money with just a little more effort than slapping it up on a free Internet writing circle. (I really should get around to that myself one of these days.)

But there are still vanity scam-meisters around. One of the big ones is Author Solutions, who did so well scamming authors that they were bought by Penguin. I you ever needed proof of how traditional publishers are no longer authors’ friends, if indeed they ever were, well, there you go. A Big Five publisher bought one of the scammiest vanity presses around…and happily continues to operate it. And other major publishers, such as Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Harlequin have vanity imprints Author Solutions runs for them. What’s more, many bastions of the traditional publishing establishment continue to support them.

For example, there’s this little piece by anti-AS agitator David Gaughran, pointing out that Publishers Weekly (who still accepts advertising from AS) was happy to report on indie booksellers aggrieved that the LA Book Festival had dared open affiliate membership with Amazon…but not a word did they say about how Author Solutions continues to be a welcome guest there, scamming authors to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars that they may never end up making back.

Of course, as Paul noted last month, The Bookseller recently stopped taking ads from Author Solutions, though Writer’s Digest continues to do so. It’s incumbent on us to get the word out, and put pressure on organizations that continue to support these scam artists. And to warn new would-be self-publishers: Don’t pay one red cent to someone to publish your book for you. Don’t pay for advertising or signings either—or if you do, at least contact the publication directly; don’t go through a middleman. If you want to arrange signings, contact the bookstore yourself. Odds are many of them will be happy to do anything that might bring more readers in.

(Found via The Passive Voice.)

Bob Kohn files appeal of publisher anti-trust settlements

Ah, the schadenfreude continues. Andrew Albanese at Publishers Weekly reports that Bob Kohn has filed his appeal of the approval of the Macmillan and Penguin e-book settlements. In the hearing a couple of weeks ago, Judge Cote suggested it was unlikely he would be found to have standing to appeal the case, since he’s not a direct party to the case. However, Kohn is clearly going to keep filing appeals until the appeals courts turn him down.

Kohn’s stance is that the price-fixing conspiracy entered into by the publishers and Apple was not actually illegal, since it served to address “inefficiencies” in the market. He suggests that, despite the higher prices, consumers benefited from the change because it made the e-book market more efficient.

Kohn also argued that, if he is not given standing to appeal, the settlements will not face any appeal scrutiny at all on behalf of consumers. After all, Apple, which is appealing its own case, is not involved in the publisher settlements. And while the publishers surely agree with Kohn’s view that their actions were legal, they are not about to challenge their own settlement deals.

I must admit, I kind of hope Kohn is found to have standing, just because it would be interesting to see how the case goes. But my suspicion is that the appeals court will feel, as Cote does, that he is not involved enough to have a say.

Penguin partners with Readmill for an alternative UK reading app

German ebook app developer Readmill has announced a partnership with Penguin UK to produce an ereading option that seems to want to sidestep Amazon and other ebook distributors and go direct to the consumer from the Penguin UK website.

“Now when you purchase ebooks from Penguin UK, you can send them instantly to your Readmill library. We’re honored to provide a beautiful mobile reading experience for some of the world’s most well-loved books,” reads the Readmill blurb. “Look for the Send to Readmill button the next time you purchase an ebook at penguin.co.uk.”

According to coverage in The Guardian, the deal applies only to titles that Penguin UK itself holds the digital rights to, some 5000 authors. Titles in the portfolio of the broader Penguin Random House group are not included.


This isn’t the first attempt lately in UK publishing to create an alternative ereader app that links buyers directly to the publisher’s own list, without going through Amazon, Kobo or other intermediaries. HarperCollins tried something similar recently with its C.S. Lewis and Narnia portals and Accenture partnership, levering the HarperCollins reader. As with that exercise, though, the Penguin/Readmill partnership also seems to lack any convincing mechanism to actually drive readers to use its app and its site instead of the Kindle Store, or the Nook or Kobo options.

I’m not immediately sure where any modern ebook reader in the UK or elsewhere would go first to browse for new titles, but I strongly suspect it’s going to be Amazon, or some other online bookseller, rather than to the publisher direct. After all, isn’t that how the book trade used to work? And Penguin UK isn’t exactly helping out Britain’s embattled bricks-and-mortar bookstores by setting itself up as an Amazon ebook alternative.

My personal experience, and my expectation, is that once you have an ebook app you tend to stick to it. At most you might have two or three. But dispersing your ebook library between a host of different apps from different providers doesn’t seem like an optimal outcome for consumers. And I don’t see any signs of Penguin UK doing the one thing that could really convince people to use its partner: Pulling its titles from Amazon and the other rivals. Without that kind of courage (read: Suicidal rashness), exercises like this seem just fiddling at the edges.

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to Nate Hoffelder from The Digital Reader for pointing out inaccuracies in an earlier version of this article. We’ve made some tweaks to fix them.

Morning Roundup: HuffPo to end anonymous comments; new Penguin Aussie teen website; more

Penguin Australia Launches New Teen Website (Good e-Reader)Penguin
Penguin Australia has been running a fairly popular teen website for the last six years. The main draw about the website is the blogging platform that wrote a number of articles on books to film and fashion. Penguin has just launched a totally new website and really takes blogging design to a new level.
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Huffington Post to End Anonymous Comments (GigaOM)
Arianna Huffington said the time has come to put names to commenters — at least on the Huffington Post.
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Career Writers (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
I write from the perspective of a career writer, someone who started as a teenager and plan to finish when my heart stops pumping. I write about survival—long-term survival—in a business that discourages longevity. That’s my point, that’s always my point, in all of these blogs.
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The Unfair Fight Against School Librarians (Book Riot)
I am not monogamous when it comes to library love. Subsequently, when my school librarian friends start to get picked on, I will hop on my library advocacy soapbox for them with the same fervor as I do for public librarians.
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Kindle Daily Deals: four novels in the Stacy Justice mystery series ($1.99 each)