Penguin Random House: heading for Hachette style fight…or joining KU?

Penguin Random House: heading for Hachette style fight…or joining KU?

Reports in the media suggest we may be heading for another

Hachazon War

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

The Guardian article by Jennifer Rankin

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

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

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

The Year Ahead: 2015

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 and 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.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.



14 Responses to “Penguin Random House: heading for Hachette style fight…or joining KU?”

  1. Harold Delk Says:

    PRH is nothing but a money-mongering corporation in my eyes. The subscription model is anti-consumer and all about trying to keep Amazon from selling ebooks at a price they should be allowed to set. If AMZ wishes to lose money on each sale so be it as it is part of their business stategy to attract customers. IMHO only a retailer should be allowed to set prices on goods and services they sell; the wholesaler may set the price to the retailer. It is my hope that all of the big five are non-existent in the future of publishing; they are relics of the horse and buggy era. They are the Monsanto of publishing; corrupt, evil-minded, anti-consumer, and trying to cling to a failing business model which benefits only their money-grubbing pockets.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Harold!

      I’m always interested in your opinion..

      Please expand on your assertion that the subscription model is anti-consumer…

      • Harold Delk Says:

        Oops! I messed up. I meant to type “agency model” rather than “subscription model.” I’ll have more time later to expand on that assertion, but wanted to correct my statement immediately.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Harold!

        That makes more sense to me. :mrgreen:

  2. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I hope that Random Penguin is going to join KU instead of joining in the rush to increase prices. Apparently, they must attract the types of writers I like best, because currently, 42 books, about ⅔ of the books in my wish list, are Random Penguins. I added them to the wish list to wait for prices on some of them to come down. Only 2 of those titles have come down in price since I added them to my wish list. Even though Amazon doesn’t show which books have gone up in price, I’m pretty sure that a good portion of them are more expensive now than when I added them. Some of the preorders are up to almost $15.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      eReaderIQ tracks prices, both up and down. 🙂 If you want to share a title with me, I’ll take a look…I’m curious.

      PRH is the big dog…er, bird, so they do attract some of the top writers. It’s a bit like…if you were a thrill ride designer, you’d want to work for Disney. 😉

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        This is totally weird. I just checked again, and 15 of the Random Penguin books have notations about a drop in price. Maybe there was some sort of glitch when I checked before that was keeping the price reductions from showing? Surely they didn’t drop a bunch of prices in 24 hours! Most of the drops were relatively low, from 5% to 8%, but a few were more substantial. One was down 46%.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        It’s possible that’s an impact of the negotiations, but I’ll try to take a look at PRH prices…

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I think any intransigence with Amazon comes from PRH’s owners: Pearson PLC which also owns the Financial Times and 50% of the Economist — they are also the largest purveyor of education materials to educational institutions around the world.

    Pearson has always been combative, and very aggressive on the pricing front (so much so that they are a subject of some controversy over their contracts with several US public school systems).

    They have always to my mind appeared to be very customer unfriendly (which puts them in diametric opposition with Amazon). They were the most intransigent (other than Apple) during the recent book pricing collusion trial).

    I think they’d be the last of the big 5 to participate in KU (just sayin :grin).

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      It’s interesting…I tend to think of the RH side dominating, at least in negotiations with ( might be Penguin).

      However, it’s worth noting that Pearson was one of the publishers that teamed with the Kindle DX on the textbook angle when it was first released…granted, that didn’t turn out well, but I think they might go for a deal if they could steal a march on other major publishers. They might not like it, and it might be a frosty negotiation…but we’ll see.

  4. rogerknights Says:

    “averse to,” not “adverse to”.

  5. Man in the Middle Says:

    Thanks for noting that with Kindle Unlimited a household can be reading lots of books at once. $10 a month for just me makes no sense at all, but add in my wife and grandson and perhaps we have a better value to consider. If it included all Amazon books, we would currently be slightly ahead of buying separately, having spent $65 total on Ebooks so far this year.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Man!

      Sure, that makes a difference. The only thing you might find is that you wouldn’t have gotten the same books…even if it included all Amazon books. You might get more expensive books, perhaps, or get a book just to use part of it (one recipe or one short story).

Leave a Reply to Bufo Calvin Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: