News and Views: Penguin Random House merger and Google Books Trial

This week will be a double-dip for news and views with two big news stories in the book world: The merger of Penguin and Random House and the ruling in favor of Google in the Google Books case.

First, Penguin and Random House received the okay over the weekend from regulators in the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and China to complete their planned merger. The new Penguin Random House company is one of the largest publishers in the world with $3.9 billion in revenues and over 10,000 employees worldwide. There will be some shake ups at the new combined company which is likely to lay off some workers in dealing with things like redundant CEOs and other position redundancies. The creation of the new mega publisher is partially a reaction to the changing book buying environment with the rise of self publishing and ebook only formats, as evidenced by the company’s press release.

Both Penguin and Random House have faced several setbacks in the growing digital market place. Penguin was one of five publishers to settle out of court with the United States Department of Justice over ebook price fixing allegations (no charges were ever filed against Random House.) While Random House faced a very public push back against contracts offered by its smaller ebook imprints from writers associations including the SFWA as detailed on John Scalzi’s blog Whatever: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI. It will be interesting to see how the larger company fares in the current book selling climate.

Second, an appellate court overruled a lower court’s previous decision in the continuing battle between Google and Author’s Guild on Monday. The project in question is Google Book’s Library project which aims to scan a copy of every book held in several major libraries or library systems worldwide. If the book is out of copyright or the copyright holder gives permission, the whole text of a book will appear online and be retrievable via Google Search; however some copyrighted material made it into the Google Book’s project leading to the lawsuit by the Author’s Guild in 2005. The previous ruling in the case allowed the Author’s Guild to sue as a class action lawsuit, enabling all affect copyright holders to file suit together and potentially leading to a large payout. The appellate court overturning the previous ruling means the copyright holders can no longer file as a class action lawsuit, forcing copyright holders to sue as individuals and likely resulting in a much smaller payout if successful. It is also unclear if the Author’s Guild will continue the expensive litigation process after suffering this major blow.

Those are the facts, now what’s your opinion?

On the Penguin Random House story, I’m not certain bigger is better. I see no reason why combining the two companies will change ebook publishing missteps of the past or stop them from making other mistakes in the future. I’m not of the opinion that big publishers are dead or dying, I’m just not certain merger is the correct strategy to navigate the much more troubling waters of their environment. As time goes on, I think the large publishers will have to become leaner and tougher to make it in the new book buying marketplace and this seems like a step in the opposite direction. But maybe I’m wrong. I’m still an outsider looking in and I don’t know too much about how publishers work so I could be totally off base.

On the Google Books Library Project, I’m slightly torn. On the whole, I definitely support the Library project as many books in libraries are out of copyright and often out of print as well. However, if I ever do publish a book, and it appeared on Google in full, that would likely decrease my sales revenue. While I overall suporte the Google Book’s Library Project, I also wouldn’t be happy if my (theoretical) copyrighted material was accidentally included. I, as an individual, feel like I would have little chance going up against a major company like Google in court. Of course, I could ask nicely for them to take down my copyrighted material, and I expect they would do it, but I would prefer not to have to rely on the good will of Google in this matter. Being able to fill a class action lawsuit with other affected parties would give me a better chance at a settlement (and I feel) make Google more likely to stay honest and check what books are being included in the project in the long run.

What does the community think? Penguin Random House: good for business or bad plan? Google Books Library Project: Great for book lovers, but potentially bad for copyright holders or am I (and the Author’s Guild) over reacting?

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Microbiology graduate student, book blogger, science blogger, and sometimes fiction writer.

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4 comments on “News and Views: Penguin Random House merger and Google Books Trial
  1. eranamage says:

    Reblogged this on Library of Erana and commented:
    This is interesting. I have been buying books published by Penguin for years. It is always a bit scary when 2 major companies merge however.

  2. eranamage says:

    Interesting, thanks. Reblogged and shared. I don’t know much about the whole Penguin price fixing issues but the Google thing sounds a bit crafty to me. How many individual authors have the money to try and sue a bigwig like google? Although I do support the idea of the library.

    • NicoleP says:

      I”m actually suprised the Google Books trial ruling didn’t get more attention in the self-publishing world this week (at least not that I saw anyway.) Because when you traditionally publish the copyright is owned by the publishing house and they have their own corporate attorneys so those authors wouldn’t likely have too much trouble. Whereas a self-published author who has their material appear for free against their wishes could have a much bigger problem. I don’t think Google would intentionally violate anyone’s copyright, but when you’re scanning millions of books and posting them online, one has to assume mistakes will be made at some point. Personally, I’d rather have the potential threat of major legal action form a consortium of copyright holders to keep them honest and make sure quality control standards are implemented in the first place, but again that’s just my opinion.

      • eranamage says:

        Yes certainly in the UK it wasn’t huge in the news. I guess this sort of lawsuit with large companies do what they shouldn’t (intentionally or otherwise) is getting more common.

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