Making Sense of Penguin Random House; Sandy's Toll on Bookstores

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Today in books and publishing: Everyone's thoughts on the world's biggest publisher; bookstores hit by storm; the author's cut on a pick-your-price deal; Khaled Hosseini to publish new book.

Predicting what Penguin Random House will mean for publishing. It's hard to underestimate just how big of a deal this Penguin Random House merger is. Yesterday's announcement that Pearson will hand majority control of Penguin over to Bertelsman means that the consolidated publisher will be responsible for about one in every four books sold in the U.S. But there's no consensus yet about how exactly this behemoth will alter the publishing playing field. Here's what everyone is saying about the merger:

Some think Penguin Random House will trigger further consolidation amongst the remaining four major publishers. "HarperCollins has already signaled its interest in consolidation," writes The New York Times' Eric Pfanner and Amy Chozick. "Now that Penguin is out of the picture, News Corporation will most likely be looking for a new partner for HarperCollins." If the prospect of a Big Five seems to concentrate too much power in too few hands, then the possibility of a Big Four must seem very frightening.  

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Others think that maybe consolidation on the publishing side might help counterbalance consolidation on the retail end—namely, beefed up publishers like Penguin Random House would have more leverage in dealing with Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. "If Amazon and Nook and Apple want to keep customers happy by offering the titles that readers want," writes PBS MediaShift's Jason Allen Ashlock, "then they'll have to eschew the strong-arming and negotiate with this new giant on a more level playing field. That's good news for publishers."

But enough talk of huge, abstract entities. How will this affect the actual individuals that make the publishing wheel go round? Authors, publishing professionals, and readers aren't likely to be happy with the trickle-down effects of this merger, writes The Independent's Andrew Franklin. "Such mergers of titans are always accompanied by job losses so it’s hardly surprising that employees at Penguin and Random House are worried ... This is consolidation and both authors and readers will have less choice and less diversity."

Then, there's the cavalier take: books are dying anyways, so why even bother worrying about whether this merger violates antitrust laws. "Worrying about anti-trust issues in the book publishing industry is like worrying about a horse and buggy cartel," writes says Slate's Matthew Yglesias. "On a forward looking basis all the establishment book publishers are going to be fighting for their lives against both the risk of diminished interest in books and the possibility of new entrants in a world where expertise in the printing and distribution of physical volumes is no longer an important part of the industry." [Slate]

Bookstores affected by Sandy. Brooklyn bookstores like Word, BookCourt, Greenlight, and Community Bookstore all weathered the storm well and will open for business today. But DUMBO's powerHouse Arena didn't fare so well. Located under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, a couple blocks from the East River, the bookstore was flooded as Sandy passed through. Those who came to check on the store this morning found storm debris and soaked books strewn across the street-level floor. 

No word yet on damage to other bookstores in low-lying areas, but we will update this post as more information rolls in. 

The author's profit from a pay-what-you-want deal. How much do authors lose when they make their books available online, trusting customers to pay whatever they think the book is worth? About two thirds of what they would've made on standard retail prices, in the case of John Scalzi. He included his book Old Man's War in a Humble E-book Bundle, which grouped his novel with seven other titles, asking buyers to offer a price they thought to be fair for the package. Scalzi roughly calculated his takeaway from this massively successful offering at $20,000 before taxes. Had he sold each of these copies at the sticker price, he would've grossed about $58,000. "So, basically, if I gross what I expect to gross from the Humble Bundle, I’ll be taking a roughly two thirds cut in my income per unit than what I usually do," says Scalzi. There's two ways to look at that figure. One, it's a pretty steep cut from what he'd make through traditional sales. But on the other hand, it's a huge raise from what he'd make if those readers pirated his e-book instead. Twenty grand is a lot less than $58,000, but a lot more than nothing.  [TechDirt]

Khaled Hosseini will publish a new novel. If Khaled Hosseini can replicate his best-selling successes with The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns—books read by tens of millions of people worldwide—then his next book should be another runaway success. Hosseini's publisher Riverhead has announced plans to release his next novel, And the Mountains Roared, on May 21, 2013. "I am forever drawn to family as a recurring central theme of my writing," Hosseini says, alluding to the content of his new book. "My earlier novels were, at heart, tales of fatherhood and motherhood. My new novel is a multigenerational-family story as well, this time revolving around brothers and sisters, and the ways in which they love, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for each other." And the Mountains Roared will be Hosseini's first book in six years. [Entertainment Weekly]

All Vonnegut, all day. A volume of Kurt Vonnegut's letters hits shelves today, and the day would've marked his 90th birthday is just around the corner (Nov. 11th). BookRiot is celebrating by dedicating all of their coverage to Vonnegut today. [BookRiot]

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