book publishing: not what it was

One thing that I share in common with many readers of my blog is the love of books. Many of you know that I worked for B. Dalton Bookseller from 1975 to 1982. I opened the store in Laredo, TX and managed two different stores in Oklahoma City. I made a brief return in 1986-1987 at a Silicon Valley location. I have been an active reader of books both before and since.

One of the things that was great about the publishing industry in the United States in the first three-quarters of the twentieth century of the twentieth century was the diversity of publishing houses. Economic reality has changed all that, and consolidation in the industry has greatly reduced the number of separate houses. I did an informal survey, and the results are sobering and rather sad.

Random house had always been the 800 pound gorilla in the industry, and that is still pretty much the case. It is now owned by the German conglomerate Bertelsmann, and includes once-time rival Doubleday, as well as Dial/Dell/Delacorte (which I believe Doubleday had previously acquired), Crown Books and its imprints (Clarkson Potter, Harmony, Broadway Books), the Jewish-focused house Schocken Books, and the once-independent Ten Speed Press.

I remember in the 1970’s when Penguin Books bought Viking Press. Penguin Group USA now includes Putnam, Dutton, Prentice Hall, New American Library, and the science fiction house Ace Books.

No doubt you saw that the Random House owner Bertelsmann and Pearson, owner of Penguin, agreed to a merger of the two houses in 2012. That transaction closed on 1 July 2013.

Lots of other consolidation as well.

Esteemed Simon and Schuster now includes Free Press and Scribner. Houghton-Mifflin and Harcourt are now one house. Little, Brown is owned by the conglomerate Hachette. HarperCollins now owns the religious publishers Zondervan and Thomas Nelson. Macmillan, part of Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, owns Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Henry Holt.

I noticed an interesting combination among the smaller houses. Atlantic Monthly Press, respected for quality mainstream work, and Grove Press, well-known for its countercultural work in publishing the beat authors William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg are now combined as Grove Atlantic.

Some of these consolidations have been in place for a decade or more, but it’s only recently that I have taken the time to pause and survey the landscape.

Publishers are changing with the times in order to survive. Today I read my books almost exclusively on my iPad Kindle app. But as publishers adapt to electronic delivery, and we readers continue to support them, even if we are buying eBooks rather than paper books, I am confident that the industry will survive.

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