Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Perseus, Friend or Foe?

The Perseus Book Group, is undoubtedly the new "Big Dog" in publishing. With the acquisition of Consortium and the 124 small presses from the PGW fallout, they have become one of the largest publisher/distributors in the US owning approximately 80% of the Indie market. The Indie presses that faced certain doom are, for the most part, glad to have someone come to their rescue. Yet, there is reason for caution.

I remember when Perseus first dismantled themselves for HarperCollins. (It was about the same time that Scholastic also ended it distribution relationship with HarperCollins. Who needs them when you have Harry Potter!) On the surface it looked like they were running from the clutches of Rupert Murdoch, who had just bought HarperCollins. Anyone with any sense of social justice should be concerned with a relationship with him. (Watch out Wall Street Journal!) But then the ax fell. Perseus was merciless. They fired a lot of good people to strengthen their bottom line. Some of them were friends of mine. I was so angry that I stopped doing business with them for almost a year -- not that they would notice because we are so small -- but it was the principle of the thing. So it wasn't surprising to me when Perseus closed up Carroll & Graf and Thunder's Mouth Press.

From an LA Times article by Josh Getlin:
"Publishing gets a little less Indie" —

For Perseus Books Group, which recently acquired Carroll & Graf and Thunder's Mouth Press as part of its acquisition of Avalon Publishing Group, it was a dollars-and-cents issue. The company decided that the two were no longer distinctive enough to thrive in a competitive market.
"We hear a lot of talk about biodiversity, but not much about protecting cultural diversity, especially for publishing," said Andre Schiffrin, founder of the New Press, an independent house. Before that, he ran Pantheon Books for nearly 30 years at Random House. "I was impressed when I first heard about Perseus' business plans," he said. "But they're not a bunch of philanthropists."

So sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind, but it is my hope that Perseus doesn't over do it. I keep up with the Perseus catalog and it continues to be strong. The books put out from Basic and Da Capo, Perseus imprints, have been some of my favorites. I hope with their new found muscle they will move with care. We aren't just moving widgets and spockets here. The book business is a business but it is also a cultural institution. An institution that this country needs now more than ever.


Post a Comment