From the President

From the President

BY SCOTT TUROW

This summer, Penguin and Random House completed their merger—announced last year in late October, during a week when many on the East Coast were without power, but still glued to their smartphones, during Hurricane Sandy. The company released a new logo too: the familiar penguin enclosed in its oval beside the stately “random house” drawn by the artist Rock­well Kent in 1927. The logo does not transform the old colophons, but simply places them side by side above the similarly stable new name, Penguin Random House.

The merger created our first mega-publisher, and we’ll need some time to understand what this means for writers, booksellers, agents, and the publisher(s) themselves. The new logo and the new name suggest the companies will be working side by side, allies rather than competitors, in a marriage of equals.

I’m optimistic that Penguin Random House will have strong negotiating leverage against bookselling giants such as Amazon. On the other hand, I worry that authors—particularly writers whose work depends on the investment of publishers, such as historians and biographers, and, of course, novelists—will have fewer options in an already shrinking marketplace. This will affect all of us, writers and readers alike.

As we look to where things are headed, size seems to matter more and more. Most experts think the union of Penguin and Random House won’t be the last of the megamergers, and, in another arena, we may see other major changes: Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights at the Library of Congress, has called for a comprehensive review of U.S. copyright law. This is long overdue—the last major overhaul was the 1976 Copyright Act. Let’s hope that the next Copyright Act takes less than two decades to negotiate, as that one did.

Scott Turow

“Piracy is seen by many as unstoppable, and copyright law has become strangely controversial. However, it need not be demonized on the one side, or wielded as a blunt weapon on the other. A proper overhaul, one that simplifies the processes for protecting copyrighted work and maintains the original purpose of copyright as laid out in the Constitution, will be beneficial to players on all sides.”

- Scott Turow

Ms. Pallante is a sophisticated and articulate advocate for authors and other creators. As she noted in a prepared statement delivered to the House Judiciary Committee in March, “authors do not have effective protections, good faith businesses do not have clear roadmaps, courts do not have sufficient direction, and consumers and other private citizens are increasingly frustrated.”

She’s right; change is needed. We no longer live in the world of 1976, or 1986, 1996 or even 2006. Mass digitization is a reality, not just a threat. Piracy is seen by many as unstoppable, and copyright law has become strangely controversial. However, it need not be demonized on the one side, or wielded as a blunt weapon on the other. A proper overhaul, one that simplifies the processes for protecting copyrighted work and maintains the original purpose of copyright as laid out in the Constitution, will be beneficial to players on all sides.

I am concerned, however, because bigness matters not only in the business arena, as exemplified by Penguin Random House, Amazon, and the others, but in the political arena as well. Money speaks in Wash­ington, and those with the most money to throw around usually prevail. Some of the largest and wealthiest companies in the world will be pushing their way into the conversation on copyright law, and most of them are not on the side of the creators.

These are challenging times in the industry, no doubt. However, I’m happy to report that the reading public is coming through, as seen in 2013’s first quarter sales figures, which were generally solid. Not stellar, but solid. E-book sales continue to increase, albeit at a slower pace than in the past couple of years, resulting in lowered sales of mass-market paperbacks but an overall increase in adult trade sales. Children’s and Young Adult suffered a bit without any blockbuster hits on the (digital and physical) shelves, such as last year’s The Hunger Games trilogy. But the U.S. remains a country with lots of readers—and for that, we should all remain grateful.

Overall? Good news—steady as she goes.