As interviewed by Jennifer Rankin in The Observer, the Sunday imprint of the UK’s Guardian, Tom Weldon, UK CEO of Penguin Random House, has some good things to say about the state of publishing. Good for publishers at least. He declares that: “”Some commentators say the publishing industry is in enormous trouble today. They are completely wrong, and I don’t understand that view at all.”
To judge from Weldon’s comments, and some others quoted by Rankin in the article, publishing has actually managed the transition into the digital era. “In the last four years, Penguin and Random House have had the best years in their financial history,” Weldon says. “Book publishers have managed the digital transition better than any other media or entertainment industry. I don’t understand the cultural cringe around books.” It would be heartening in some ways to think that the book trade could actually learn from what had happened in other media, instead of simply ignoring, discounting, or blocking it.
Weldon, however, appears to consider this a problem of recommendation and book discovery, rather than distribution or format. “The challenge isn’t digital: it is how do you tell people about the next great book,” he says. Obviously, Penguin Random House must be doing something right if its figures are that good – buying Author Solutions, possibly? So anyone hoping for digital to disrupt them out of existence is obviously going to have a long wait.
And, as a measure of what a typical, reasonably well-informed, UK journalist writing in the Books section of a major newspaper knows about the actual current state of the book world, Jennifer Rankin doesn’t mention self-publishing once anywhere in her article. She doesn’t mention Kindle. Ebooks appear only in a separate reference section detached from the main interview. If you tried to work out from her main feature what the digital transformation is that Weldon makes so much of, you’d be completely in the dark. That’s the level of analysis being applied to publishing in the UK these days. Or does she assume that the British public now knows the story so well that there’s no need to retell it?
Oh, and incidentally, Penguin Random House’s appropriation of Author Solutions and support for its vanity self-publishing ripoffs doesn’t get mentioned either.