In the meantime, PRH’s authors have been the losers – as have customers, who might expect new titles from the country’s biggest publisher to be highlighted by its biggest bookseller. Great PRH writers may suffer a bit, but it is these mid-list writers, who normally rely on the Waterstones staff’s passion for promoting books by lesser-known writers, who will pray for an end to the conflict.
It comes at a time when authors are already worried about the consequences of the proposed merger between PRH and another major publisher, Simon & Schuster – reducing the number of unaligned UK publishers is likely to result in fewer wars of auctions, lower advances and more compliance in terms of what is posted. And one wonders if PRH would have been confident enough to deal with Waterstones the way it has if it weren’t such a big company (it was formed with the merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013) and likely to grow.
âThis is all part of a larger shift towards concentration of power and cartels. Literary agencies are growing to have the power to negotiate better terms with publishers, as publishers consolidate to deal with Amazon, âLownie explains. âThe publishing industry talks about diversity in terms of authors and people, but it also needs a plurality of ways to offer intellectual contact, choice and different voices. After all, many of the most interesting books of recent years have come from small publishers.
We will see if this plurality is not a consequence of the current need of publishers to be big enough to face the generalist.