Facing up to the mega publisher
Irish publishing is about to get both simpler and more complex. Simpler because one giant publisher will now be responsible for nearly 22 per cent of all the books sold in the country and more complex because the same thing that is responsible for the first change, the merger of Penguin and Random House, raises some challenging questions.
The first, and most obvious, is what it will mean for Ireland to have a single entity publishing so many books. Having such a large market presence means that Penguin Random House might well be able to resist some of the pressure from even the largest booksellers in Ireland.
Large rival publishers may well combine as a response to this move, so the Irish market will probably see more consolidation. Even the larger Irish publishers, such as Gill Macmillan, will struggle in the face of such companies.
The smaller independent Irish publishers have less to fear from the merger: as their power is modest anyway, it will in no way be diminished by changes far above them in the pecking order. They may even benefit if the merger results in a slower-moving corporate entity.
The key concern for Irish writers and agents is whether the new company will allow for competition between imprints, ensuring a healthy market for works from both new and existing talent. The soothing noises both sides have made to date suggest that Irish authors and their agents will still be able to play off Transworld Ireland against Penguin Ireland, or indeed Penguin UK against either of the Irish-based offices, but will that last, and, if so, for how long?
It does seems unlikely that the talented publishers who lead the Irish operations – Michael McLoughlin of Penguin and Eoin McHugh of Transworld Ireland – will engage in cut-throat competition. A more probable scenario is that they will allow friendly competition over new talent and try to poach existing talent from their rivals’ lists, using their increased size as leverage.
Irish readers probably have the least to fear. Even the Penguin-Random House deal won’t change the fact that the internet, ebooks and smartphones are putting in readers’ hands the very thing they are looking for: instant access to almost any book they might choose to read, at a variety of prices. Neither Penguin Random House nor any other behemoth of publishing can change that.