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Penguin and Random House to merge

 
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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:36 am    Post subject: Penguin and Random House to merge  Reply with quote

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20120485

I'm not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing.

I have long felt that Penguin Classics are among the finest products of our civilisation. In most bookshops, we see just a handful of their titles, but when you go to larger bookshops, or look through their catalogues, the range and depth are both quite startling. I do hope that the cost-cutting that is an invariable aspect of any merger won't result in a downgrade of the range of titles available.

Any thoughts?



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chris-l



Joined: 27 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 7:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Any thoughts? Just a few disjointed ramblings!

I share your enthusiasm for Penguin Classics: the range and quality is astounding, in editions that offer excellent value for money. Will they survive the merger? Well, they do have in their favour that overheads are fairly low - no huge payouts to celebrity authors - and by virtue of being classics, they do have a long shelf life, so are not going to go out of fashion very quickly. On the other hand, they do, perhaps more than any other category, face very strong competition from the digital market. I am as guilty as anyone of downloading huge quantities of classics at very low cost, but I would concede that in aesthetic terms, they have nothing like the appeal of a well produced book, even a paperback. I also wonder about the often scholarly introductions that come with Penguin and other quality classics: I wonder if digital publishers will be seeking out the experts in the field to provide just those words to enhance the enjoyment of the text.

Other than the classics, I feel that Penguin dumbed down long ago. I am old enough to remember when the mere fact that a contemporary novel was published by Penguin was a recommendation in its own right. It also had a wonderful non-fiction list, not to mention the wonderful Penguin originals on a huge range of subjects. For many of my generation and the previous one, Penguin was the source of much of our education and culture. My impression is that it has long ceased to be that, preferring instead to concentrate on bestsellers and pseudo-psychology.

Random House may take them even further downmarket, but Pearson group hardly maintained them as a shining beacon of enlightenment. I just hope that the few remaining glimmers of light will not be extinguished.


Oh dear, I didn't realise how gloomy I was until I wrote this!


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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 11:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I was a teenager and becoming mad about books I bought a lot of Penguins and Pelicans and Puffins - and there were also Peacocks and Ptarmigans.  In those days the new Penguins arrived on the bookshop shelves on - I think - the last Thursday of the month.  I used to be there on that day and nearly always bought two or three.  In those days they cost 1/6, 2/-, 2/6, 5/-, but not much more. Heady, happy times!


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 12:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm afraid I am deeply pessimistic about all this. When costs are "streamlined", we all know what gets cut. I think Penguin Classics will survive, but its range will be nothing like what it is now: the likes of Jane Eyre or Middlemarch will always be there, sure, but I can't really hold out much hope for anything a bit more esoteric - all that Persian poetry, Sanskrit drama, Byzantine histories, etc. will, I fear, be out on their back sides.

Random House own Vintage Classics, which has a fairly good catalogue (they publish a lot of the Pevear-Volokonsky translations from the Russian), though not as extensive as the Penguin Classics catalogue. And in terms of critical introductions and notes, it  can't compare: the Penguin Classics editions are far more scholarly. I wonder if the two will merge, and if so, what the resultant product will look like.

And what about new translations? Or extending the range of titles? In the world of classical music recording, the three biggest European labels (Decca, DG and Philips) have merged, while the two biggest labels in the US (Sony - which bought up CBS - and RCA) have also come together. these conglomerates have been endlessly re-issuing the most popular titles in their back catalogues, while new recordings are virtually non-existent. (Except for the various people labelled "crossover" - although what they are crossing over from and where they're crossing over to remain vague - who are marketed aggressively as "classical".) However, as these big labels have retreated, some smaller independent labels - Hyperion, Chandos, Naive. Onyx, etc.; and the budget label Naxos, which is a sort of equivalent of Wordsworth Classics - have come into their own, producing some very fine stuff. One  can only hope that  something similar might happen in the world of literary publishing - i.e. if Penguin Classics and Vintage Classics are no longer interested in literary quality or in extending the range of their catalogue in worthwhile directions, then the likes of Oneworld Classics or Pushkin Press or Dedalus Books will step in to fill the gap. (Or even Wordsworth Classics: like the record label Naxos, many of their titles are very enterprising.) However, these publishers are already running on a shoestring, and are constantly on the point of folding.

Well, let's wait and see. In the meantime, if there's some little-known title in Penguin Classics anyone has their eye on, I'd recommend snapping it up now before it goes out of print and appears at silly prices on the Amaxon marketplace.

Incidentally, I notice that in the Telegraph article I linked to, there is no mention either of Pengin Classics or of Vintage Classics: instead, they tell us that the publishers of Jamie Oliver Cookbooks and of 50 Shades of Grey will be merging. Yes, I know, in business terms it's celebrity cookbooks and shoddily written porn that really matter ... But what a shame that this is what publishing is now reduced to!



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Last edited by TheRejectAmidHair on Tue Oct 30, 2012 2:10 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Evie
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Joined: 24 Oct 2008
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Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 1:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree that Penguin Classics are one of the greatest glories of British publishing, probably *the* greatest - because of that vast range you mention, Himadri, all produced in quality editions, with essays as introductions, good translations (on the whole), and a sense of authority and high literary values.

I can hardly bear to think about the possibility that all of this might be compromised.  There have been many blows to the publishing industry in recent years, but if this merger does lead to fewer titles and fewer new translations of foreign language gems, it would be the hardest blow of all.  There is a sense that whatever nonsense is published, Penguin Classics is still going strong...

Eek.  Let's hope, as you say, that time will prove these fears wrong.


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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
Posts: 1605


Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 2:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just thinking about Allan Lane's original idea of bringing a range of quality literature affordably to a wider public. Laudable, and it actually helped publishing and authors.  As well as readers.

Now it's just price slashing, but without any thought to the quality of what is being brought out or how this method of selling actually supports and encourages the continuation of creating literature from those who produce this out of thin air. Does that come about because some of these big conglomerates that own publishing houses also flog chutney and washing powder and trainers and it's all seen as "product" in the same way? We are very afraid of didacticism these days, saying this might be good for you, and elevating; it's all about consumer 'choice' - even when some of those choices are very dubious. I think the flawed concept of 'choice' has been quite destructive in some areas (schools, hospitals) and has been spun as good and desirable, when it is often found that people don't actually want a lot of elusive choice but just good local services so that they don't need to 'choose' to go elsewhere. I hate every aspect of life being turned into a form of shopping...but this is probably another topic and not for these boards.  Smile

And now we find that Amazon, for one, doesn't actually pay any of its taxes! I don't want to shop there knowing that, (I pay mine!) but its prices make the choice hard.


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Ann



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
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Location: Worcestershire

PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evie wrote:
I agree that Penguin Classics are one of the greatest glories of British publishing, probably *the* greatest - because of that vast range you mention, Himadri, all produced in quality editions, with essays as introductions, good translations (on the whole), and a sense of authority and high literary values.

I can hardly bear to think about the possibility that all of this might be compromised.  There have been many blows to the publishing industry in recent years, but if this merger does lead to fewer titles and fewer new translations of foreign language gems, it would be the hardest blow of all.  There is a sense that whatever nonsense is published, Penguin Classics is still going strong...

Eek.  Let's hope, as you say, that time will prove these fears wrong.


First the bookshops die, then the libraries are closed down and now the publishers are fading away  Sad


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TheRejectAmidHair



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2012 7:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think libraries were dying a death for a long time: shelf space was reduced to make room for Internet cafes, and for DVD rentals (the selection of DVD titles were of a generally populist nature); books of lasting cultural value were sold off to make room for more ephemeral stuff; and so on. And all this without anyone seemingly noticing, or objecting.

Our local library, which survived the cull, is a very dispiriting place right now. By the time the cull came round, the sad truth is that most libraries weren't even worth saving.

I agree fully with Green Jay: when everything is but a matter of "consumer choice", that which is of cultural value will become sidelined out of existence. This has, as Ann points out, already happened in a great many areas, and it would be a sad day indeed if Penguin Classics were to go the same way.



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Ann



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Location: Worcestershire

PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2012 5:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Today I visited The Hive recently opened in Worcester which is a ray of hope for libraries. Worcestershire County  Council and the University of Worcester have joined forces and built a massive library and archive centre. From the outside it looks totally bling but the inside is wonderful and it contains the biggest children's library in the whole country. Isn't that a wonderful belief in the future of books!

http://www.thehiveworcester.org/


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chris-l



Joined: 27 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2012 5:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That sounds like a really positive development, Ann. I won't even allow myself any cynical thoughts about what might have been lost to create this. This is good news, full stop!

Since I retired, almost exactly 5 years ago this week, I have only ever used libraries as venues, never as sources of books. I feel a little guilty about this, but it had reached the point where I had more books that I wanted to read on my own bookshelves than I could find in any of my local libraries - some of the books on my shelves were 'rescued' library books, bought very cheaply when things that had real value were disposed of because they did not achieve the short term targets in terms of issues. I worked as a professional librarian for 40 years, but I ended up very disillusioned at the betrayal of values that I saw all around me. Perhaps I should move to Worcester!



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