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Random House bags BBC Books

17 July 2006

This week's announcement that Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing has acquired a majority stake in BBC Books brings to an end several years of negotiation and rumour. Although it has achieved a recent return to profitability, the BBC has never managed to make the kind of profits on its publishing that its roster of household name authors, and domination of the TV tie-in field, should have produced.

The deal brings Random House UK's market share close to that of Hachette Livre, which recently stole its crown as the biggest consumer publishing group in the UK. It now has 15.19% of the market, only 0.7% behind Hachette. And Hachette's recent purchase of the Time Warner Publishing Group has given it the international muscle that the French-owned publisher previously lacked with the acquisition of Time Warner Publishing in the US.

As the big publishing companies get bigger and bigger, you can't help wondering whether straightforward market share matters all that much. What about profitability? But economies of scale still count for something. Tim Hely-Hutchinson, CEO of Hachette Livre says: 'When you're talking to a big customer, monolithic publishers are better, because you've got one sales director for whom a Smith's or Waterstone's is a huge piece of business in both directions.' Bookselling chains now have their own problems, but 'as we are already giving them the highest discounts in the world I don't see any moral or business reason to help them out.'

Although one might think that all available publishing companies have now been acquired, there are still persistent rumours about Simon and Schuster, the US arm of which would give Hachette Livre a much bigger presence in the key American market. There is an inexorable movement towards a few conglomerates dominating the international consumer publishing market.

In the meantime long-term publishing observers will be heartened to find that, although conglomeratisation seems to crush imprints like so much cardboard, the imprint names do sometimes return to fight another day. Time Warner has been forced not only to go back to using the illustrious Little Brown name, but also to resurrect the name of its long-dead paperback imprint, Sphere.

And in the same week comes the news that HarperCollins UK is to use the Avon name to launch a new women's fiction imprint in the UK. Now here's a move which makes one positively nostalgic for the '70s and '80s, when it seemed that Avon's American 'bodice-rippers', as they were known, would never work in the UK. But in this new era of international markets, it seems that anything is possible.