It looks like the “Big Six” trade publishers might soon be the “Big Four.” Could that be a good thing for libraries?
Random House and Penguin are merging to create Random Penguin, and it looks like the owner of HarperCollins now wants to buy Simon & Schuster, presumably to create HarperCollinsSimonSchuster.
Normally, I’d say that publishers merging can’t be that good for anything but the publisher’s bottom line. Cutting the number of major publishers by a third over the course of a year is a third less competition.
The publishers think it will be a way of “combining forces can allow publishers to gain more heft in negotiating terms with retailers.” That’s probably true. But retailers are those people who sell us things, so combining forces against them is also combining forces against us. That’s why we have laws against monopolies.
Not that these combinations will create a monopoly. Even if all the former Big Six publishers combined, they still wouldn’t hold a complete monopoly on book publishing, not even popular book publishing.
Nevertheless, it’ll make the top two of the Big Four much larger than the other two, and either way, it can’t be the best move from the consumers’ perspective.
But what about for libraries, and especially for that goal for public libraries that some librarians seek as if it were the Holy Grail that would breathe new life into decaying carcasses? Will combined publishers then all “sell” ebooks to libraries?
If HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster combine, will Simon & Schuster then realize that giving libraries really bad deals on ebooks would be a good way to squeeze a little more money out of them, like HarperCollins has?
Then the only holdouts will be tiny little Macmillan and Hachette, and no one will care about them anymore until they combine to form Machette, and probably not even then.
Or, which seems just as likely, the combinations will make publishers even less willing to bargain with libraries. They’ll have more power over libraries just as they’ll have more power over Amazon, the only difference being Amazon is still going to have an enormous amount of power to protect its interests while libraries collectively twiddle their thumbs and hope for the best.
That might be the impetus librarians need to start thinking more innovatively, and trying to find alternatives to the Big Six/Four: buying from smaller publishers, focusing on local authors, something like the Douglas County Libraries approach.
With big changes come big opportunities, and as the status quo around books disappears, ebooks take over, and publishers merge with more power amongst their fewer selves, libraries are going to make some significant changes.
Librarians can start making those changes now and have time to plan and experiment, or they can wait until disaster strikes and hope that endless administrative meetings will be enough to stave off the disaster.
Or maybe less competition will make publishers more likely to deal with libraries. Yeah, that’s probably what’s going to happen, so don’t worry about it. Less competition is good for everyone but the consumers.