Penguin Random House: heading for Hachette style fight…or joining KU?
Reports in the media suggest we may be heading for another
with Amazon playing hard ball (hardback?) with Penguin Random House, the largest of the Big 5 USA trade publishers (trade books are the ones you bought in bookstores…not textbooks and such). Articles such as this
suggest, not unreasonably, that we may be looking at another public and prolonged contract negotiation dispute. That involved Amazon making it harder to get books (both e-books and p-books…paperbooks) from Hachette, another of the Big 5. The e-tailer allegedly pulled pre-order options, kept prices high, took books off sale, and suggested that customers buy other books right on some books’ Amazon product pages.
PRH is the last of the Big 5 in this round of negotiations…Amazon has already reached agreements with Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and yes, Hachette.
Yes, that sort of war is possible…but little old optimist me wants to suggest another possibility. 😉
Random House has always been willing to stand alone from the other tradpubs (traditional publishers).
Sometimes I agree with them and see it as a benefit to readers, sometimes I don’t…but I have always admired their strength of conviction.
I disagreed with Random House when they blocked text-to-speech access in all of their e-books (at least, that was their officially stated policy).
I agreed with them when they were the lone member of the then Big 6 (their merger with Penguin reduced it to five) to stay out of the Agency Model agreement which also involved Apple (and resulted in successful action by the U.S. Department of Justice).
Interestingly, in both cases, Random House eventually reversed their positions…widely allowing TTS access and joining the Agency Model.
Even though that’s the case, they both show Random House’s willingness to lead.
I think it’s possible that these negotiations may involve another opportunity for PRH to lead.
They might become the first of the Big 5 to join
That’s Amazon’s subser (subscription service). You pay $9.99 a month for “all you can read” access to close to one million books (we should pass that before the end of the summer, I think).
I’m a happy KU member….even without the presence of the Big 5.
I still see threads from time to time in the Amazon Kindle forum asking if KU is “worth it”.
That’s going to depend on your use patterns.
For example, if you have more than one user of your account, KU is worth more to you than if you have just one.
You can have up to ten books out at a time.
That mean that, easily, my Significant Other and I can both be reading different KU books at the same time. It’s much more likely that I’m reading several and my SO is reading one, but you get the idea. 🙂
A family of four could save even more.
I also find that what it does it have me reading a selection of different, somewhat more expensive books. There are so many free and low cost books that I don’t need KU to have just something to read. What it means is that I’ll read a book that costs maybe $7.99 and up which I wouldn’t have read otherwise.
You might be surprised that there are books that are that expensive in KU…it seems like many people think that KU books are all indies (independently published), which are typically a lot cheaper than that.
That’s simply not true.
While we don’t have the Big 5 (yet), we do have well-known, tradpubs and well-known books. Publishers already participating include:
- W.W. Norton (Moneyball)
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (the Lord of the Rings, What If?…which was in KU and a New York Times bestseller at the same time)
- Scholastic (The Hunger Games)
- Mariner (Life of Pi)
However, it’s also clear that having the Big 5 in there would bring in more readers.
It’s not that the Big 5 are completely averse to subsers…some are involved (at least with the backlist…older books) in Oyster and Scribd.
I think that some participation in KU would be a very good thing for the Big 5. It’s going to increasingly become a source of discovery. You don’t need every one of your books in there. Having short stories in a popular series could be a big draw, and could lead people to buying the series (not just for themselves, but for gifts).
It would take guts, though, for a Big 5 tradpub to join KU. It could not help but be seen as a signal. Joining another subser? That can be seen as a statement against Amazon, not necessarily pro-subser (which worries some authors). Joining KU? That’s an endorsement of subsers generally.
In my annual
I predicted (shakily) that a Big 5 publisher would join KU this year.
I used Macmillan as an example, but Random House (now PRH) was always the most likely to blaze the trail.
The two might not be announced together…general contract agreement and KU participation. It might make sense to separate them by a bit. Amazon also may not announce a general agreement, but it will get into the media.
I would guess that they may also be trying to do this by summer. That’s a great time to promote KU, when people often have more time to read (not just students, but people going on family or other vacations).
We’ll see what happens, but I do think this would be cool! 🙂
What do you think? Does it matter to you if a Big 5 publisher gets into KU? If one joins, will others follow? Will we have a…Random House Rumble like the Hachazon War? Will Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com settle with PRH at the same time? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
Update: thanks to reader and commenter rogerknights for a comment which improved this post.
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