Random House Germany drops DRM for books – by mistake. A crack in the Adobe wall?

A week ago, German ebook buyers noticed in total surprise that ebooks from Random House – Germany’s by far largest publishing group – could be purchased without hard DRM. This was an ever more astounding discovery, as the group had not given any prior notice to such a change of minds.

So far, hard DRM had been hardwired in the DNA of big German publishing groups, notably Holtzbrinck (with S. Fischer or Rowohlt), Bonnier (Ullstein, Piper, Carlsen), or Random House (aka Bertelsmann), as to the trade association Börsenverein as well.

Well, it was only a glitch. Or, as Libreka explained, the German trade association’s own distribution platform, which served the RH titles: Some technical switch at RH had been misinterpreted by Libreka’s system – and that was that.

Was it only a glitch?

In fact, several mid-sized German publishers already have abandoned hard DRM, such as prestigeous Hanser, or more recently Hoffman & Campe. However, I am not sure if any consumers have noticed their move towards convenience thus far.

Dismissing hard DRM altogether would be “the smartest thing to do for publishers”, argued the (e-)reading blog Lesen.net.

One week later, nothing has happened though.

This is perhaps the biggest PR opportunity that German publishers have missed for years, for gaining headway in both of their fiercest, and most relevant battles:

– For winning over the minds and hearts of consumers (aka readers), as a bold move would have been to say: We trust you, as our most loyal partners, and prefer to offer you convenience, at our risk; because in the ever shrinking print trade book market, ebooks are the growth segment, hence the future element for the entire book business;

– In competing the prevalence of Amazon in the German market, both in print and ebook retail, by emphasizing DRM free offers as a convenience to their customers, and thereby regaining control over that key issue of who defines the market environment: The traditional local players, or (from such a ‘turf wars’ perspective), that challenger of Amazon, who had come in from afar (as the local players would want to portray the company from Seattle, whose base in Munich however was their first venture internationally, back in 1998).

In a few weeks, the Frankfurt Book Fair will open, as a perfect venue and PR opportunity for publishers to reaching out beyond the so far mostly walled-off perspectives on eBooks and innovation, by embracing their readers.

What, one week ago, perhaps really had been just an odd glitch, could then evolve into a crack in the wall of hard and consumer-unfriendly DRM for ebooks – a timely crack indeed, occuring exactly 25 years post the opening in the Berlin Wall, which had brought the cold war to an end.

From a reader’s, or consumer’s perspective, but perhaps also from a publisher’s point of view, it might indeed be simply the “smartest” (Lesen.net), and technically, the simplest thing to do, in order to leverage what ebooks can add to that good old trade of books.

Why the protest of authors in the Amazon vs. publishers fight opens a new chapter

With the authors stepping into the arena, the current controversy between Amazon and major publishing groups – so far: Hachette and Bonnier – brings into the debate the fundamental quality it deserves. What we are seeing is in fact a watershed moment in the evolution of the digital economy for cultural content.

In an essay, and manifesto, in Perlentaucher (in German), I argue why this is so important, and why 3 lines of action will be needed to maintain a balanced and diverse ecosystem of writing, publishing (plus distribution) and reading:

  • Assure a fair economic context that does NOT play to the advantage of global players against locals (with the new European tax regimes being a good step in the right direction);
  • Reform and adapt copyright to meet today’s cultural consumer practices, by notably introducing a concept of “fair use“, backed up with transparent compensation for authors and other creators of works;
  • Open and encorage not-for-profit environments for the production and dissemination of those works of art and culture that cannot be sustained commercially under today’s circumstances.

A more detailed English summary will follow here.

2014 Frankfurt CEO Talk featuring Brian Murray, President and Chief Executive Officer of HarperCollins Publishers.

A debate on consolidation, digital integration, and globalization in publishing, presented by Livres Hebdo, with The Bookseller, buchreport, PublishNews Brazil, Publishers Weekly, and the Frankfurt Book Fair Business Club, featuring the Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2014.


Wednesday October 8, 2014, from 14:00 to 15:30

Frankfurt Book Fair, Hall 4.0, Frankfurt Business Club.

Brian Murray, President and Chief Executive Officer of HarperCollins Publishers, will be the sole speaker at the Wednesday edition of this year’s Frankfurt CEO talk. The discussion will focus on the current transformation of the global book business.

Murray will be interviewed for 60 minutes by the editors of Livres Hebdo, The Bookseller, buchreport, PublishNews Brazil and Publishers Weekly, in the context of this year’s Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry, in cooperation with the Frankfurt Book Fair Business Club. The event will be moderated by Rüdiger Wischenbart. A following 30 minutes Q&A session with Brian Murray will be accessible exclusively to members of the Frankfurt Book Fair Business Club.

Since being appointed CEO, in 2008, Murray has led the transformation of HarperCollins from a traditional print publishing company to a dynamic print and digital publishing company generating $200M in digital revenues. Most recently, Brian Murray led the purchase of Harlequin, the internationally leading publisher of romance fiction, the latest in a series of acquisitions under his stewardship.

HarperCollins being a subsidiary of News Corporation, its book publishing activities are immersed in a broader context of a leading global group that includes diversified media, news, education, and information services.

On Thursday October 9, and Friday October 10, additional debates organized by the same partners, will introduce another two leaders of the global book business, with names being announced separately.

Jeff Almighty: Kindle Unlimited is about leveraging access to Amazon’s mega catalogue, and control of the entire value chain.

Kindle Unlimited is not just another subscription offer, but yet another key component in Amazons 2 central strategic lines of action: First of all, to organize access to the world’s largest catalogue for reading (and making $$$ as a collateral benefit – which will never bring significant income for anyone else but the by far strongest player(s) around). And second, this helps very much in the ambition of controling the entire value chain (or more radically: to replace all the other competitors, by one walled empire, defined by Amazon).

In this context, Kindle Unlimited can be huge, because it confronts traditional publishers with nothing less than an altogether new, and radically different, business modell then what used to be the bread and butter for 2 centuries: To sell and buy books one copy at a time. Including all those existing author contracts that, again, compensate the creators with a cut on that old model.

For Amazon, as the aggregator and community hub, it is relatively easy to make that radical switch. For the publishers, and everybody else, this will cause a huge headache. It will ever more benefit only the very few peak bestselling authors (and perhaps the largest publishing giants), and further dilute income, and sustainability for all of the rest.

The momentum of Amazon’s catalogue building, and now the launch for Kindle Unimited reminds me of its behind the scene frenzy before the introduction of the Kindle, back in 2007. Yes, back then, the Bg Six were largely on board, which is not the case now. But re-consider the hardball game with Hachette, or the gossip about talks with Simon & Schuster, in the light of Kindle Unlimted. These confrontations come in handy now, before the backdrop of yet another Amazon controled sales channel, and a huge handle in tightening up the Amazon consumer community – and to show everybody the sign on the wall, which reads: Be careful, and think what it would mean to NOT have your titles prominently featured by us.

Jeff Almighty has a strong run these times. It will require a lot of ingenuity, and cold blood, for everybode else to come up with a good answer to him.

This is what I argue in an essay (in German) about the possibile impact of Kindle Unlimited‘s launch, published by Die Welt today. Podcast (in deutsch, von Deutschlandradio) hier.

Global Trends in Publishing: An analysis of developments, key figures and driving forces.

Find a brand new White Paper for free download, which we prepared on behalf of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The transformation of the book publishing industry is governed by the transition from print to digital, and by globalization. This has triggered a wave of consolidation among the traditional big players of the sector – with the Penguin Random House merger being only the tip of the iceberg. At the same time, new players enter the field – as mirrored drastically in the ongoing conflicts around Amazon.

But also globalization impacts heavily. New markets have emerged, including the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – which follow highly diverse trajectories, presenting opportunities for growth, but also becoming target markets for the biggest actors from North America and Europe.

The recent evolution of ebook markets, which has seen significant market share so far only in a few countries, led by the United States and the United Kingdom, with Germany joining this club as the first non-English market.

All this hits the book business with disruptive force. The White Paper “Global Trends in Publishing” summarizes key figures and insights to put these developments into perspective.

For updates, follow us on Twitter at @wischenbart and find the Global eBook report at www.global-ebook.com

Understanding the reader requires not just a direct marketing plan, but listening to the consumers. Thoughts from the buchreport360 seminar.

The website of HarperCollins, one of the Big Five English language publishers, welcomes visitors – with a shop. A feature that could be just normal is currently big news among observers of international book markets. Why so?

While the call that publishers need to communicate directly with consumers has been repeated time and again, little has been done to make such a direct exchange a practical reality, in fact.

Of course, most publishers, big and small, have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and a growing number of authors want to have their dedicated web presence supported by their publishers. But, many book professionals concede, not very many books find their way into the hands of readers in ways that can really be linked to such (expensive) digital initiatives.

One of the reasons for this shortcoming is that many such efforts are built like a preacher’s pulpit, focusing only on how to get the word out about an author, or a book. The other half of the exercise is missing though: A built in listening post, that allows the publisher, the marketing and communication team, and the author to listen to what the readers have to say.

At a one day seminar last week, branded buchreport360, this was all differnt. Most of the conversation had focused on how to make that return channel a key to the entire exercise. And clearly, selling books direct to consumers – and thereby learning what works, what doesn’t, and how so, exactly – engages the publisher in a much stronger way, and triggers a learning curve that no feedback from booksellers can replace. (And of course, this back link is not created as a re-placement for the booksellers and their wisdom, not at all).

The trick of listening – and not just preaching, or promoting – may be seen as banal. But it entirely re-frames the issue of  both direct-to consumer marketing, and of understanding consumer data by the same move.

This simple, yet powerful insight is what I brought home from  buchreport360 last week, where I had the pleasure to help preparing and moderating some of the sessions,  with, among others, Charlie Redmaine, CEO UK of HarperCollins (and formerly CEO of Pottermore) , Laura Bijelic, head of the reader platform Bookmarks at Random House UK and Dutch book and culture nerd Eppo van Nispen.

One could also add: Opening your shop is not just about selling books. It is as much about inviting your readers to talk to you, and to have someone in your publishing house who is prepared to lend an ear. Simple. But effective indeed.

The Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2014 is out: Consolidation, digital integration, globalization.

The Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry has been released today, June 27, 2014.

An initiative by Livres Hebdo, this annual snapshot of the global book business has been updated every year since 2007, and is co-published by The Bookseller, UK, buchreport, Germany, Publishers Weekly, USA, and PublishNews Brazil. It has been researched by Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting.

The edition of 2014, which is based mostly on revenue reports for 2013, currently represents 56 companies that each report revenues from publishing of over 150 m€ (or 200 m US$). Together, these groups account for with a combined revenue of € 53.641m (as compared to € 56,566 m for the 60 listed companies in 2013, and € 54,303 m for the 54 companies listed in the previous year).

Finad a summary of findings and the top 10 list at www.wischenbart.com/publishing

Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2014 - Top 10. www.wischenbart.com/publishing

Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2014 – Top 10. www.wischenbart.com/publishing

While overall, the publishing sector shows a remarkable stability in its total volume, the ranking reflects in much detail the ongoing transformation, which is driven Consolidation, digital integration, and globalization.

The expansion of companies from emerging economies (notably the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China), with new entries in the ranks between 21 and 50 – that we had noted last year – slowed down in 2013, mostly because the currencies OF these countries suffer from depreciation against the Euro (and US$), which, at the same time, make imports of books and educational materials more costly for these aspiring societies.

Also, the three main sectors of the publishing industry – professional information & Science-Technical-Medical (STM) publishing –, educational and trade publishing evolve fairly differently, as we can show from the top 10 listed companies.

Among those largest publishing groups, the STM segment accounts for 42 % of the reported revenues, while educational publishing represents over a third, or 35 %, and trade (or general literature) is down to only 23 % of the total value that has been created by the leading actors in international publishing. Notably the gap between the share of educational and trade publishing is opening ever wider, highlighting that “educational” remains the perhaps most competitive sector of the industry.

General trade publishing – which includes fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, young adult, genre fiction and related categories, has seen significant consolidation among major companies lately.

The world’s largest trade publisher, Random House, has not only merged with Penguin, another of the Big Six in general book publishing, in 2013. The publishing group, head-quartered in New York, yet a division of German Bertelsmann media corporation, also has acquired the second largest Spanish trade publisher Santillana, and took over full control over the third largest Iberian group, formerly branded Random House Mondadori, now re-labeled as Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, thereby becoming one of the two leading publishing houses for over 300 million Spanish speakers in the Americas.

HarperCollins has recently acquired the leading publisher of romance literature, Canadian Harlequin. And Hachette Book Group USA decided to takeover the publishing arm of Perseus, the largest group of so far independent US publishers.

It turns out that a growing number among the leading publishing houses consolidates around just one main field of business, be this education (Pearson, Cengage, McGraw-Hill), professional information (Reed Elsevier, Thomson Reuters), or trade (Random House, Hachette).

All these houses have a global approach to publishing, aiming at a stronger integration along the value chain – however mostly without including the last link to the consumer, namely retail. The exceptions to this pattern are to be found in the non-English speaking markets, at Grupo Planeta, at Russian EKSMO-AST, Swedish Bonnier, or Italian Messagerie.

It has been an ambition of this ranking to identify, portray and list publishing companies from outside the traditional main markets of this industry (North America, Europe and Japan), notably by looking at those populous countries with significant economic growth and, subsequently an expanding demand for both education and entertainment, with books and reading occupying a central position in this regard.

It comes at little surprise that in Brazil, China or Russia, to name just three examples, local publishing groups have covered the domestic reading and learning audience for decades, yet so without broader business exchange beyond their national borders. This is about to change dramatically, and in many ways.

All three sampled countries (with India being different, due to its particularly strong ties with British publishing) have seen a few domestic publishing houses to expand strongly, partly fostered, namely in educational, by their governments with state sponsored learning programs and digitization initiatives.

As these emerging economies have seen a period of rapid growth also in their publishing markets, which attracted obviously also international players, who could not expect to find economic growth other than from going global.

And in the case of China, for the past decade the largest buyer of rights and licenses for books, the government even decided to make “going out” – or international expansion – a strategic priority for the strongest Chinese publishing groups.

How 9/11, the economic crisis of 2008 and the Internet conspired to re-invent the business of books in translation. Part01

A summary of the BookExpo America Global Market Forum 2014: Books in Translation. Wanderlust for the Written Word. (Disclosure: The event was curated by Rüdiger Wischenbart for BEA)

Everybody agreed that at once, books in translation found a way out of their obscure niche. But the question as to how, and why, was already widely debated.

It was an incremental process, as we became more cosmopolitan, found Grand Dame of US international publishing, Carol Brown Janeway of Knopf Doubleday, quoting on the late pioneer Alfred Knopf who had introduced her to the magic of books in translation.

It was 9/11, argued translator Esther Allen, as Americans had to find out more, and more truthful accounts on that wide world that they could not grasp, or even less understand, anymore. So paradoxically, that traumatic event had led to new openings, as the wonderful WordsWithoutBorders initiative, whose Susan Harris reported the why and how details.


Or was it rather the economic crisis of 2008, asked literary scout Maria Campbell, as people were looking beyond the rim of their plate, for stuff that was – not the least argument – also more affordable than a US star author system that had become more and more unaffordable, in terms of extremely high advances – while a similar international talent.

Also the context is helping, we found out, as authors could socialize internationally, helped by a boom of hugely successful literary festivals in many countries. And even editions of classics became more international, and help their publisher’s bottom line as well, as John Siciliano said, as both Penguin’s editor of Classics, and as the one who had acquired a stunningly bold, and young Swiss writer, Joel Dicker, to introduce him as a new rising star to American readers.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” is a wildly successful and acclaimed novel launched in the US only the day previous to that debate at the BEA Global Market Forum: Books in Translation.

Co-published initially by a legendary Swiss small press, L’Age d’Homme, together with a tiny Paris boutique publisher, Bernard de Fallois, is the Wunderkind of the season: A 600+ page thriller and a page turner, backed up by intellectual reflections on the art of writing, and in an about-face, a satire of New York’s machinery of buzz around books, star authors and their vanity.

Joel Dicker, age 28, politely explained at the opening panel of the forum how he crafted this piece, and how important it was to him that this book would be both entertaining and light, and yet stand up to big American contemporary classics such as Philip Roth.

Translations are a growth segment in the publishing business, clearly, which is clearly highlighted by the news of a stunning, yet also somehow logical merger, which was broken at the event by Maria Campbell: Two internationally leading literary agencies join forces, to dwell and develop the resulting opportunities. The Spanish agent Carmen Balcells and London based Andrew Wylie have announced that they are joining forces, creating an international agency, called Balcells & Wylie.

Still, these are yet the conventional elements of how books in translation are currently re-invented. The wide range of innovative initiatives will be documented here shortly in a separate post.

Can we re-frame the debate on translation? Niche, fragmented audiences, global – simply normal!

Talking about translated books was synonymous to complaints – for a long time, and for good reasons. Notably when it is about translations into English.

Only 3% of new titles are translations. Translators are badly paid. Translated works are difficult to sell. Audiences for such works are highly specialized, fragmented, and spread out in a wordlwide geography.

Well, seriously, this is today a normal setting and pre-requisite for publishers for most new books, notably in fiction.

And yet, recently, it has become almost a routine to re-think how authors and readers, for fiction (the full range: from genre fiction to a quick read to high-brow literature) get together.

Plus, translated books, notably novels, have been a big stimulus  throughout the profession of books, internationally. Quoting names like Stieg Larsson or Jo Nesbo is almost an insult here. Next comes Joel Dicker and the “Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair” (and I am excited to welcoming him tomorrow morning in New York. Here is why:

Bringing good books across linguistic borderlines is currently the goal of many old and new ventures: Both the Big Five global trade publishers as well as scores of start-up companies currently re-invent the rules for translated books in a global reading arena.

These are the topics that we explore and debate tomorrow, Wednesday 28 May, at BookExpo America‘s Global Market Forum, in a full day conference which I had the honour to curate  on “Books in Translation: Wanderlust for the Written Word“.

I shall report and summarize the event here.

Re-Framing the debate on translation: How translated books escape the niche, and lots of new ventures replace old gatekeepers

The debate on translation is old – and not always very forthcoming: Translations of (notably fiction) books are seen as difficult to sell, costly to produce (due to the cost of translation), while translators, for good reasons, complain about the low pay. And translations are only a meager 3 percent in English language markets anyway.

Is this the dull end of the story about the value of diversity? Or isn’t this the perfect starting point to re-frame the debate?

Translated fiction has suddenly exploded – say Stieg Larsson, but also that 100 year old guy. Even in the United Kingdom, translated books are cool, as The Bookseller has told us today: “Sales of translated titles surge“. 

At BookExpo America, we work on that topic for over a year now, and have discovered loads of surprises: Those many many new ventures taking translation – and its dissemination – into their own hands (not waiting for gate keepers). Those many translation grant initiatives, from a wild diversity of organizations and countries – which you can use, without giving up control over editorial. How digital and the internat and social media make communication with spread out, fragmented, highly specialized targed audiences the norm – not a pitfall and pain.

A long catalogue of questions, and solutions, has emerged. Followed by enormous response to our initial invitation:

Join us for the Global Market Forum: Books in Translation. Wanderlust for the written word. (Oh, and this is my personal pleasure: The idea about the “wanderlust” came from my US colleagues – making me happy that Kindergarten and Schlagbaum are not the only German words in English!).

For the details, find this nice summary from The Bean – by BEA director Steven Rosato. Or come and debate with us Books in Translation, next week, in New York.

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