Publishing in the Digital Market

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position:Communications Division, WIPO

Penguin Random House (PRH) is the world’s largest trade publisher. The company employs over 12,000 people globally, owns 250 imprints around the world and publishes 15,000 new titles every year for readers of all ages. Company chairman John Makinson shares his views on the impact that digital technologies are having on his industry.


Is the publisher’s role changing in the digital context?

The role of the publisher has not changed significantly; the means of distribution have changed. The impact of digital technology on our content has not been too significant. It does not greatly matter to publishers whether the work is produced digitally or physically, but the shift to digital channels of distribution – especially to Amazon – has been highly significant, as has the opportunity to improve publishing processes through the application of digital technology.

Copyright is the foundation of publishing. Copyright allows our authors to own and protect their works.

What new trends or opportunities are digital technologies creating?

The emergence of self-publishing has been an interesting phenomenon and probably the biggest trend of note, giving many authors a non-traditional route to reach consumers. But it has not seriously disrupted the traditional publishing business. Penguin Random House is committed to serving readers with books curated by our 250 imprints and their experienced editors and marketers. The biggest opportunity of digital is reflected in our reader-centric approach and direct-to-consumer marketing. We monitor very closely new digital business models – such as subscription and sales of micro-content – but their impact has been much less pronounced in the case of books than with music or movies.

And what impact are digital technologies having on creativity?

Some people use new technologies in very creative, positive ways; some, unfortunately, use them to steal others’ work. So it’s a mix.

You mentioned subscriptions. Is there a place for the subscription model in publishing?

We are very open to all kinds of different publishing models and we are constantly exploring and evaluating a variety of models. Thus far, we haven’t seen a proposed subscription model that we believe can be viable for our constituencies.

You also mentioned the growth of self-publishing. Does that not pose a threat to the industry?

People are finding that it is not so easy to write, edit, publish, market and distribute a book on their own. Self-publishing, in this respect, reinforces the role and value of curated publishing. The market that the self-publishing industry serves is different from our market, so there is some overlap but we have not witnessed material cannibalization of curated content from self-publishing. The market has expanded to accommodate both models.

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