A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In awareness of Banned Books

Hey it’s Banned Books Week and 99% Invisible has an awesome podcast that is 100% worth listening to. It’s about the Griftschrank, or “poison cabinet”, in the Bavarian State Library in Munich, and other “poison cabinets” or rooms that have been used over the years for banned or controlled substances (like pharmaceuticals, or Mein Kampf) and other works considered dangerous.


Banned Books Week is an annual awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read. I enjoy the yearly reminder of the censorship and hardship that books can endure. And every year there is some new tip or piece of advice about how to deal with censorship, how to embrace diversity and how to cope with challenges. This year I discovered that NCAC has a censorship toolkit to help parents, teachers and schools deal with challenges and requests to ban books:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

International Dublin Literary Award 2016

I’m in Dublin and yesterday the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award longlist was announced. Here’s how it looks by the numbers:
160 books
10 of them Canadian
118 cities
44 countries
19 languages
6 judges
1 winner

The Canadian titles are (alphabetically by author last name):

  • Sweetland by Michael Crummey
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk
  • The Back of the Turtle by Thomas King
  • Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
  • The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Who by Fire by Fred Stenson
  • All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
  • Will Starling by Ian Weir
  • The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner

Ian Weir is on the Vancouver Sun Book Club with me and I reviewed Will Starling around this time last year.

If you’re new to this award, here are some interesting tidbits. Libraries in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa, Saint John, St. John’s Sydney, Toronto and Winnipeg were among those that nominated books for the 2016 award.

Two Canadians have won the prize, the late Alistair MacLeod for No Great Mischief in 2002 and Rawi Hage for De Niro’s Game in 2008.

The International DUBLIN Literary Award was formerly known as the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Watch for this hashtag #DubLitAward

The book that received most nominations this year is Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, chosen by 14 libraries in Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, The Netherlands and the USA.

All the Light We Cannot See was one of my favourite titles last year.

The shortlist will be published on 12th April 2016 and the winner announced on 9th June.

Monday, June 01, 2015

So Misguided in Dublin: Month 1

On Apr 24 James, Finlay and I moved to Dublin, Ireland. Moving house is no small feat but moving countries, my goodness. I have a whole new appreciation for people who come to Canada.

We stayed at a great 2 bedroom Airbnb in Donnybrook near Muckross Park College, which is close to Ranelagh village and Donnybrook and Herbert Park.


Our first park visit beyond the neighbourhood was downtown to St Stephen’s Green.


And, of course, we checked out Herbert Park, which was recommended by all of our Irish friends now living in Canada. It’s a big park with a playstructure and football and cricket fields on one side of the road and on the other a duck pond and more playing fields.



Our first weekend day trip was on the DART to Dún Laoghaire (pronounced DunLeary). There’s a weekly farmers market, which is more artisan stands than food market but still had some noteworthy attractions. The town also has a well-regarded ice cream shop but, by the time we found it, the queue was quite long and the weather had turned so we carried on home.


Here’s the famous ice cream shop (or infamous queue to get ice cream).


On the second weekend we went on the DART to Bray. Our intention was to go to the castle in Malahide but there was construction on the North line of the track so one of the station workers suggested we go South to Bray. Not a bad destination. There is a boardwalk and playstructure plus a nice hillside walk to Greystones.





The big victory was that we found a house to rent in Ranelagh. Our move in date was May 5, just in time for James to go back to work. We had 3 suitcases and our carry-on bags so moving in wasn’t onerous. The tricky part was figuring out the heating for the house, which is done via the Rayburn Nouvelle stove in the kitchen. And we had a few snags with the vacuum and washer/dryer not working, which made cleaning the house a challenge. The next step was Dunne’s and Argos to get some bedding and bath towels, a few kitchenwares and some photos printed to make it feel like our home.



James got the internet set up so we could make some calls home. And we settled into our daily routine.



The exciting, aren’t-we-living-like-Kings-now moment, was meeting the Taoiseach, Edna Kenny. i.e., the Prime Minister of Ireland. Slack announced the European office opening and the Taoiseach and an MP were on hand with speeches and smiles for the cameras. James did a bang up job with his speech and soundbites for the press. And I even got in on one of the photos with the man himself.


Darren and Julie introduced us early on to their friends Ger and Karl, and we had dinner twice with them and their 3 kids (and really making friends is as important as meeting the Taoiseach, if not moreso).

Homemade apple crisp to mark the occasion. Made with Golden Rose, Irish apples.


Ranelagh village is a nice spot with lots of amenities, including two parks that we regularly visit.

Belgrave Square


Ranelagh Gardens


And there is a Luas stop in Ranelagh, which whisks us out to Dundrum (shopping mall) and Milltown (park and pub), or the opposite direction into the city centre where there are fab parks like St Stephen’s Green and Merrior Square.

Merrion Square


I have found a few storytimes and playgroups. Finlay and I have been twice to the Pearse Library, which is also where you can do all the research into your family tree, and then we take the DART back to Aviva Stadium and walk home.


The international news in our first few weeks was that Ireland voted YES to Equality and gay marriage. There were lots of smiles and a general good sense about the results, plus Dublin was blessed with a big rainbow on the day of the vote count so it seemed like a done deal as far as Mother Nature was concerned.


We made our first trip to Temple Bar, during the daytime. The weekly market there has some great local cheese and meats, as well as food vendors like the crepe van and the apple cider stand where you can get a shot of Irish whiskey with your cider. Not a bad way to spend a chilly Irish morning!


James treated me to a ticket to see the 50th Anniversary production of John B Keane’s The Field, which had a run at the Gaiety Theatre. The Field is a well-known Irish play about a farmer “Bull” McCabe and his love for the land he rents. The land comes up for sale and Bull is a hardnose about claiming it as his and bullying the townsfolks into letting him be the only bid. A city slicker puts a wrench in that and ends up murdered. As I understanding it, owning and working the land is a deep-rooted Irish need so the play is a reflection of that, but also an interesting morality question about the value of preserving the land vs. developing it. The city slicker, played by Aidan McArdle of Mr. Selfridge’s fame, wants the land for his concrete plant. That doesn’t mean it’s right to murder him, but it means the murder and halt to that plan isn’t as day and night as it might otherwise be for the townsfolk.

The cast I saw was Michael Harding, Aidan McArdle, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Catherine Byrne, Geoff Minogue, Maria McDermottroe, Arthur Riordan, Fiona Bell, Stephen O’Leary, Mark O’Regan, Conor Delaney,Terry Byrne, and Seamus O’Rourke.


The biggest personal victory in our first month was finding Fin a playschool for weekday mornings. Being a full-time mom is not my strength and my patience for playgroups and other parents was fully tested in the first 4 weeks. Happy mom = happy kid. Finlay loves his school and playing with new toys and things that are obviously for kids, which is to say that our lovely house doesn’t have a lot of kid-friendly furniture or play areas. We are working on it. In the meantime, we have 4 bliss-filled weeks at this playschool. Then hopefully we’ll be able to find some help over the summer and a regular spot for him somewhere in the fall. 


The tedious, bureaucratic task we completed was the GNIB registration, which is our immigration stuff. Next up we have to queue for our social service numbers. James got up one morning and queued at 7:30 am at the GNIB office to get our place in line to register. Then Finlay followed, arriving at 9:00 and waiting to go through the processing which happened around 9:30. Then we took a short break while waiting for the next step, which was fingerprinting, and then we waited in another line to get our actual cards. All in, it was a 7:30-12:30 task. The GNIB card lets us come and go over the next year, then we have to renew. Joy.

Taking a break from the overly hot GNIB office.


Other logistics that were possible once we had a permanent address were getting our joint bank account and my library card. Hooray for the library!


Overall Dublin is a nice, walkable city. There are tons of parks and green spaces. That is a pleasant surprise because I was told to expect fewer parks than Vancouver. In fact we have more options here than we did in Vancouver. Also I have found a ton of storytime options at the libraries, swimming times and other activities. The hard part is getting the childminding underway so that James and I can do adult things like going to the gym or finding other activities where we can meet other adults.

And the weather.

As Finlay says, “it’s a lovely day.”


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The End of an Era? Big Publishers Pulling out of Canada

CC-License Photo by Markus Spiske / www.temporausch.com

A couple of midweek shockers in the Canadian publishing world. The first is that David Kent is leaving HarperCollins Canada and the second is that Simon Schuster’s Canadian publishing program is in question amid key layoffs.

The Big 6 in book publishing are:
1. Hachette Book Group, leading US trade publisher currently embroiled in a dispute with Amazon. Imprints are Grand Central Publishing and Little Brown and Company, among many others.
2. HarperCollins, has a publishing group in Canada, is a subsidiary of News Corporation, and includes imprints like Harper Perennial and William Morrow, among many others.
3. Macmillan, is a conglomerate of several leading publishing imprints like Farrar Straus and Giroux, St Martin’s Press, Tor Books, and WH Freeman, among many others.
4. Penguin Group, with operations in Canada, merged with Random House, and includes imprints like GP Putnam’s Sons, Plume, Prentice Hall Press, Puffin Books and many others.
5. Random House, now including Penguin, is owned by Bertelsmann, has operations in Canada, and includes publishing groups like Crown Publishing, Knopf Doubleday and Random House Children’s Books, plus many others.
6. Simon & Schuster, the publishing operation of CBS Corporation, also has operations in Canada, and includes imprints like Pocket and Scribner, among many others.

So what’s going down in the Canadian market? Is there a Harper Collins + S&S merger to come, like we saw with the Random Penguins? Or are the US operations taking over control of the Canadian publishing groups in order to find economies of scale?

If the Big Six are seeing 1/3 of revenues coming from digital and “big data” and sales analytics are on the rise, then it seems plausible to me that the Canadian operations will wind down in order to maximize revenue (and reporting) for the North American market through the US headquarters. Any one in a betting mood? Toronto friends, what’s the word on the street?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Two Greats Gone: Gabriel Garcia Marquez & Alistair Macleod

I always cite 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez as my favourite book and Alistair Macleod as my favourite author. To have lost both authors in such a short span of time is heartbreaking even though it’s been years since either put out a new work. What I loved about both was that neither ever misplaced a word. The sentences were tight, the quality of the storytelling was epic and their magnitude as authors was greater than great.

I never met Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I did spend 2 months in his country of birth and the culture of that part of South America was heavily infused in his writing. Reading Marquez was a way to venture back to that place and to basically feel like a time traveller.

A Nobel Literature prize winner. A great author. He died on April 17 at the age of 87.

My favourite copy of 100 Years of Solitude is in shabby condition, thanks to an ill-fated lending of said copy to my now husband. I should note that he bought me a lovely collector’s edition as an apology, but I held on to my original version and still prefer it.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Love in the Time of Cholera are two other favourites. And there are countless scenes that will stick with me forever, in particular the clouds of yellow butterflies.

I wish Alistair Macleod had stayed with us until 87 but he was only 77 years young when he passed away on Easter Sunday, April 20. 

His first short story collection, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, is a slim volume that packs a hefty punch. Each story is a masterpiece. Before I was properly introduced to Alistair Macleod’s writing in a Canadian literature class in university, I was familiar with the cadence of his voice from listening to some of the stories read on CBC radio. Every time I read Macleod’s writing, I can hear his voice. It’s a wonderful experience.

When he published No Great Mischief in 1999 I had the pleasure of meeting him at BookExpo in Toronto. I had two girlfriends who were working at McClelland & Stewart at the time and one had the task of typing up pages and pages of text from Macleod’s handwritten, yellow foolscap. When he won the $10,000 Trillium Book Award, he chuckled that the kids could get another topping on their pizza now. I have my signed copies of Lost Salt Gift of Blood, No Great Mischief and Remembrance.

Macleod and his economy of words will always be my barometer for good writing. Be brief, be brilliant, be gone. I suppose it’s fitting that the last time I saw Alistair Macleod was at the Vancouver International Writers Festival and he read from his short story “Remembrance.”


Officer of the Order of Canada and multiple award winner, Alistair Macleod will be greatly missed.

Friday, December 20, 2013

3 Canadian Libraries Are Among the Best in the World

A report published in this month’s edition of Libri: International Journal of Libraries and Information Services ties Vancouver and Montreal for the top spot, while Chicago, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Toronto rounded out the top five.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Michael Tamblyn at FutureBook 2013 on 50 Infinite Shades of Grey

“Is it bestiality if he turns from a dolphin into a human while they’re having sex?” – October 14, 2013

Kobo COO Michael Tamblyn at FutureBook 2013, “Infinite Shades of Grey: The Promise and Peril of Self-Publishing,” on 9 days of hell.

On October 12th, Kobo had a significant catalogue of self-published titles in the UK. Tens of thousands of authors and hundreds of thousands of titles, a thriving part of our UK business. Living the dream, as they say.

On October 14th, we had zero self-published titles available in the UK from zero authors and our 300-year-old retail partner had suspended their web presence.

For more context please read this first:

Or start with the video and transcript here:


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Birthday Black Bond Books

Third Generation Bookseller BLACK BOND BOOKS Celebrates 50 Years! (CNW Group/Black Bond Books)

Oh hooray for Black Bond Books! Canada’s largest independent bookselling group—based in BC—is celebrating their Golden Anniversary this October. Black Bond Books was founded in Brandon, Manitoba in 1963, by Madeline Neill, now retired. She moved to BC in 1972, and with the help of her children, Cathy, Vicky and Michael, the company grew to 10 locations over the years. A true, family business, Madeline’s daughter Cathy Jesson is President, granddaughter, and third generation bookseller Caitlin Jesson manages the Vancouver location, and Mel Jesson, business partner, keeps the financials in order. (Source: Press Release)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Writing Prize Honours Michael Fellman

Calling All Historians & Journalists! Do you know about the Michael Fellman Award? This $1000 award was co-established by the SFU History Department and The Tyee to honour a piece of publicly accessible writing that offers a bold, erudite political analysis tied to history.

The inaugural prize honours this historian’s skill at unpacking complex issues and providing context to current day and historical events. Fellman passed away in 2012 and the Michael Fellman Award was created to reflect his spirit of public engagement, bold thought, clear analysis, and writing that rests on well-researched historical understanding.

The submission deadline is fast approaching! Entries are due before November 1.

Deadline: Nov 1
2,500 words
Email doc to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); Subject Line: Submission for Michael Fellman Award

Full details are available here:

More about Michael Fellman, professor emeritus of history at SFU and historian of the 19th Century, the Civil War, and American Violence: Michael Fellman in Memoriam: an essay by Christopher Phelps

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Page Two: Strategic Publishing

Very excited for my friends Jesse Finkelstein and Trena White who have just launched their new publishing venture, Page Two.


Page Two is a new form of agency for non-fiction authors needing help navigating the full range of publishing options from traditional publishing routes to self-publishing and digital publishing. Jesse and Trena are publishing veterans with a ton of experience and high-level of detail so there’s no doubt in my mind that their clients will be in good hands.


Author and publisher services:
• Writing coaching and editorial support
• Career strategizing that considers the full range of publishing options, including self-publishing
• Traditional author representation to the book trade
• Sourcing printers, POD, and distribution services
• Sourcing skilled freelancers to work on your project
• Managing or expanding corporate publications programs
• Transitioning print content to digital
• Cross-format content licensing, including contract drafting and review
• Strategic planning and business development
• Editorial and acquisitions strategy

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Goose Lane Accepts Digital Submissions

The time has come! Publishers, in particular Goose Lane, are now accepting manuscript submissions electronically. 

I remember my Raincoast “slush pile” days. Sitting in the back room with inch-thick manuscript submissions and reading (or rather weeding) through boxes of submissions. Now the glut of paper is finally ending with the ease of reading facilitated by tablets. Thank you iPad.

[Press Release excerpt] Beginning this Canada Day, Goose Lane Editions will accept fiction submissions only in electronic form and solely via electronic submission.

In early 2012, Goose Lane equipped its acquisition editors with new tablet computers for reviewing manuscripts. Now, halfway through 2013 and after almost 60 years of accepting manuscripts exclusively in paper, the company will begin the overall transition to full electronic submissions.

“Aside from the ecological benefits of doing away with mountains of print manuscripts,” Goose Lane’s publisher Susanne Alexander says, “this change will allow for a more rapid response to submissions and queries and will result in substantial savings for prospective authors.”

The electronic process for fiction submissions will soon be followed by poetry and non-fiction submissions, which are currently accepted only in paper form, which I suspect is the preference of the editor. The release did say that the publishing house expects these two genres to transition to the electronic submission process.

Full details on the new submission process is available at http://gooselane.com/submissions.php

Friday, March 29, 2013

Amazon Buys Goodreads

In publishing news yesterday, Amazon bought Goodreads. The big question in the minds of users and publishing industry folks is “what will they do with it?” In particular will they remove the buy buttons for other retail sites? Word on the street is that Goodreads was working on a bookstore function for the site, hence the acquisition by Amazon. Like Facebook and Google, Amazon likes to take any competition off the table. They already own Shelfari and have a stake in LibraryThing, so maybe owing Goodreads was always in the cards.

People like publishing consultant and Digital Book World partner Mike Shatzkin think it’s definitely because of the bookstore competition though. And why is Goodreads competition? Because they have an awesome recommendation engine and rapid user growth. Add a bookstore to that and they stand to make a nice bag of coin.

With 12 million users as of late 2012, Goodreads is the largest book-focused social network so it will be interesting to see how Amazon, the largest bookseller, is going to capitalize on that. The Digital Book World site has a good article on the acquisition — Amazon Acquires Goodreads — and they’ve provided a few logical guesses at what Amazon will do with Goodreads.

  1. Use the site’s data to augment and improve its own book recommendations.
  2. Remove buy buttons for other retailers’ books.
  3. Supplement its own reviews with Goodreads reviews.
  4. Add Goodreads to its suite of marketing solutions for publishers.
  5. Nothing. The company is growing quickly (nearly tripled in users since the end of 2011).

I think they’ll definitely use the site’s data, and they will likely remove or make much more prominent the Amazon buy button. At the moment Barnes & Noble is the prominent call to action. I do not think they’ll replace their reviews with Goodreads’ reviews because for SEO reasons they’d want the content to be unique on both sites so they have have a double whammy in search results. Goodreads does have a good marketing program, including author chats and advertising, so perhaps that becomes part of an offer to authors and publishers. Oh the anticipation!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Canopy Reprints Two Canadian Bestsellers on New Straw Paper

A limited number of signed collectors’ editions of Alice Munro’s Dear Life and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi have been printed on straw paper and are being sold for $250-500. The special sale is a campaign to demonstrate the versatility of straw paper developed by Second Harvest Paper in partnership with Canopy. At present, 50% of forests cut in North America currently become paper. This new straw paper contains only straw left over from grain harvesting and recycled paper, with no virgin forest materials used at all, and therefore no damage to our limited forest ecosystems.


Press Release (Vancouver) – Celebrated authors Alice Munro and Yann Martel have collaborated with award-winning environmental group Canopy to print collectors’ editions of their bestselling books Dear Life and Life of Pi. Printed specially on forest-saving paper made from straw rather than trees, the books highlight a viable solution to logging carbon-rich forests for paper. Published by Random House of Canada, a limited number of signed copies of each book will be available from these printings. All proceeds go towards Canopy’s continued forest conservation work and development of alternative paper sources.

“Future generations will only know bears, tigers, orangutans and caribou as fictional creatures unless we protect their habitat in the Boreal, tropical and temperate forests now,” said Yann Martel, after last week’s Oscars win by the film based on his novel. “Using straw paper for my book demonstrates that there are elegant solutions that keep the world’s towering trees standing.”

Canopy arranged the production of these rare special editions with Random House of Canada as part of their campaign to diversify the North American paper fibre basket. Kick-starting commercial-scale development of straw-based papers will significantly reduce the stress on endangered forests.

“Now more than at any other time in our history, we need to bring our intelligence and imagination to sustain our life support systems,” said Alice Munro. “With a pure passion and unwavering conviction Canopy has been working to protect the world’s forests and inspire innovation. This is exactly the kind of practical solution required.”

Both Alice Munro and Yann Martel, and their respective publishers, McClelland & Stewart and Knopf Canada, have worked closely with Canopy since 2000 when the organization first started its work to green the book publishing industry. At the time, no publisher was consistently printing on environmental papers.

“A decade ago Alice Munro and Yann Martel were amongst the first authors to work with Canopy and their publishers to curtail books being printed on paper from ancient and endangered forests,” said Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s founder and executive director. “Today, they are yet again helping to pioneer solutions that will keep more than 800 million trees standing in North American forests every year.”

Every year millions of tonnes of wheat straw and flax straw, left over after the grain harvest in Canada, could be used to make commercial-quality paper. As of February 2013 Canopy’s ongoing market survey quantified an annual North American demand for more than 1 million tonnes of straw paper. The paper used in Alice Munro and Yann Martel’s titles is made from wheat straw, flax straw and recycled paper, and has half the ecological footprint of conventional paper. It is the product of a unique partnership that Canopy forged with paper producer Cascades Fine Paper, technical collaborators at Alberta Innovates, and printers Friesens and Webcom.

Signed special editions of Life of Pi will be available for purchase beginning March 6, 2013. Signed special editions of Dear Life will be available for distribution as of mid-April 2013, in time for Mother’s Day, but can be preordered today. Both books are available exclusively at canopyplanet.org.

Canopy is a not-for-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting forests, species and climate. Canopy believes collaboration is the key and that businesses can be a powerful force for solutions, and work with more than 700 companies to help ensure their supply chains are sustainable. Canopy’s partners include Sprint, The New York Times, Random House, Hearst, Scholastic, and Lonely Planet. For more information, visit http://canopyplanet.org.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction Announced

The longlist for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction has been announced. One hundred and forty-three books were nominated for the 2013 prize of $40,000 and from that list the longlist of ten books have been selected.

The longlist is as follows and full details are included on the attached news release:

A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape  
Candace Savage  

A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda  
Robert Fowler

A Thousand Farewells: A Reporter’s Journey from Refugee Camp to the Arab Spring  
Nahlah Ayed    

Here We are Among the Living: A Memoir in Emails  
Samantha Bernstein  


Pinboy: A Memoir  
George Bowering  


Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery, and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age  
Modris Eksteins  


Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile  
Taras Grescoe    


Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy  
Andrew Preston    


The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen  
Stephen R. Bown  


Walls: Travels Along the Barricades  
Marcello Di Cintio

The finalists for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction will be announced December 4, 2012. The $40,000 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction is presented by the BC Achievement Foundation and will take place in Vancouver in early 2013.

Previous winners of the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction include:

• Charlotte Gill for Eating Dirt (2012)
• John Vaillant for The Tiger (2011)
• Ian Brown for The Boy in the Moon (2010)
• Russell Wangersky for Burning Down the House (2009)
• Lorna Goodison for From Harvey River (2008)
• Noah Richler for This Is My Country, What’s Yours? (2007)
• Rebecca Godfrey for Under the Bridge (2006)
• Patrick Lane for There Is a Season (2005)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Penguin and Random House Merge


Media outlets are reporting that two of the big six publishers have merged.

It’s interesting to see the coverage, in particular the Canadian opinions of the merger. What we have are two of the publishing industries biggest players forming one super publisher, Penguin Random House.

Realistically both were already owned by international media giants Bertelsmann (Random) and Pearson (Penguin). The new super publisher is “super” because it merges the publishing divisions and imprints across North America, Latin America, the UK, Australia & New Zealand, India, South Africa and operations in China and Spain. Wow.

The media reports, likely from the merger press releases, are spinning this as a fight against the dominance of Amazon. The idea being that a larger entity can play ball better with the dominant retail vendor. Even though Random House is quite advanced in terms of their digital publishing and data savvy, and Penguin is advanced in terms of innovative digital publishing and brand recognition, we still have two publishers (now one) against a data and technology machine. I’m not sure what people are expecting can be leveraged here. Nor why they think that their publishing buddy, if they are successful in playing better with Amazon are somehow going to open the door for smaller publishers.

My take is good for Penguin and Random House. I hope they don’t spin their wheels trying to consolidate operations and create efficiencies that likely don’t exist.

My concern would be for authors and agents and the diminishing diversity of established publishers because I do still believe publishers have a lot of valuable industry knowledge not yet earned by innovative publishing startups. We’ll see how merged these operations and imprints become but I suspect there will be reductions.

My advice to all publishers is to look closely at the skills Amazon has developed since the late 90s and catch up as quickly as possible. Look at your direct to consumer marketing, look at your brand experience, look at your website usability, look at your purchase funnels, go mobile, get your head around the data, stop looking at what other publishers are doing and look at the leaders in b2c retailer/ecommerce, assess your products, find your audience, find the budgets, hire the right staff and doggedly seek the winners. (I know you think you’re doing that, but if you step way back and take a look at you vs. them, you’ll see the difference.)

As Joe Wikert says, ‘Instead of just merging I’d rather see one of the big six stand up like this small publisher and say “we’ve walked on eggshells for far too long…it’s time for us to get serious about building that direct channel and not worry about how our existing channel partners will react.”’ (TOC.OReilly.com)

Dennis Johnson of Melville House has a good review of the media reports on the Penguin Random House merger.