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Is it bad news that Bertelsmann is consolidating its ownership of Penguin Random House?

23 January 2017

Some nervousness has been expressed by authors and staff in the last few days about the impending purchase by Bertelsmann of part of the Pearson share of Penguin Random House, but is there really much reason to feel anxious about this?

Some authors have expressed their concern about the impending consolidation of the company in the hands of Bertelsmann, but none have gone on the record about it. Staff are naturally a little nervous about possible consolidation of lists, and the recent disagreement with the company in the UK about contractual negotiations and recognition of the union has put the company under the limelight.

Agents however are sanguine about the situation, bolstered by their own dealings with Penguin Random House in the many countries they publish in.

The company does in fact have an extremely good record for maintaining their publishing in terms of imprints and staff over a long period. Publishing companies have in the past often tended to make cuts when acquiring imprints and other publishers, often to the extent that the outcome of the purchase eventually looks worth less than the company paid for it. But Penguin Random House is the biggest publishing company in the world and Bertelsmann were fully expected to take on the Pearson share in due course, since their partner was keen to concentrate on educational and academic publishing. Because the latter has proved problematic, this time has probably come sooner than expected.

Agent Jane Gregory of London literary agency Gregory and Company, said Bertelsmann were"benign owners" who let its publishing divisions exercise their editorial judgment while "keeping a firm grip on the finances and profit margins."

Elsewhere in trade publishing, the amazing rise of Pan MacmillanOne of largest fiction and non-fiction book publishers in UK; includes imprints of Pan, Picador and Macmillan Children’s Books has shown that growth rather than company acquisition can also change the publishing landscape. Led by bestselling authors Joe Wicks and Julia Donaldson, the company had a record-shattering best year ever, with revenues up an amazing 27% to £77.7m. It had never previously topped the £65m mark. It's good to report that this is due to the underlying strength of their list and the steady building-up of authors, as well as some particular bestselling books and authors.

So the news from the corporate publishing world is currently rather benign and further consolidation does not currently seem to be on the cards.