Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, used probably his highest-profile public appearance to date, one day after the newly merged giant’s first hundred days as a united company, to deliver an extended interview at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair with five book trade publications. The content of his remarks was released piecemeal through the show daily, and the entire interview has now been made available online in full by Publishers Weekly.

marcus dohleThe tone of the debate was not exactly penetrating or challenging. To take just one example, here is Dohle on Author Solutions: “Many of you know that we have Author Solutions International as a portfolio company that came in with Penguin. So we actually perform and provide the biggest self-publishing platform in the world.” No mention there of Author Solutions’s abysmal track record of author exploitation and class action lawsuits, and the assertion that it’s the world’s biggest self-publishing platform is positively scary. But the journalists evidently didn’t feel any urge to probe deeper.

Still, here are some more interesting and enlightening statements from Dohle. Of Amazon, and agent Andrew Wylie’s recent call for publishers to withdraw from the Bezos Behemoth, he said: “The relationship is about cooperation and not about confrontation. And I don’t let anybody talk me into this sort of confrontation, because it’s not true. We want to reach out to as many readers as possible. Of course we have to manage each other, right? And that’s fine. But fundamentally we are aligned, and the rest is about whatever, terms of sale and negotiation power, you name it. I have a great deal of respect for the entrepreneurial achievement and the innovation that Amazon et al brought into our industry. And we should not forget about that. Kindle has at large prevented us from piracy in the first place because they created this wonderful, very convenient Kindle system.”

On digital transformation and new business models, he said: “If you want to master the digital transformation and if you want to make it a smooth landing, you of course will have challenges that you are facing. New publishing models, new competition, disintermediation, and self-publishing, you know, that is one aspect of it. I have always said, you know what, it’s only going to make us better at what we do. It’s a good challenge for publishers, for curators, to see new business models emerging.”

As to publishers’ continued relevance in those business models, Dohle remarked: “I truly believe we will be relevant 100 years from now. Our world is becoming more and more complex. People need guidance. People need editors who drill down into vast information to its core message. The world needs that more than ever before.” And he concluded: “The shift of paradigm is in marketing. We don’t need to do the transaction, others can do that better.”

Dohle prefaced his remarks by stating that: “The authors are the center of what we are doing and the alignment with our authors is extremely important for us.” Given his namecheck for Author Solutions, I’m still skeptical about that. But you can read the full text of the interview and judge for yourselves.


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