On October 29th, 2012, Marcus Dohle sent an email to all of the authors published by Random House. The subject line, a modestly worded “Our news today,” may very well have gone unnoticed by most of its recipients (if not simply deleted), because Random House authors have no idea who Marcus Dohle is. I, for one, immediately suspected him of being a virus.
Much to my surprise, Marcus Dohle turned out to be a German industrial engineer – and CEO of Random House. “Our news,” also to my surprise, was an announcement that Random House, the largest trade publisher in the English-speaking world, was merging with Penguin, the second of the “six sisters.” The tone of Dohle's email was reassuring. In spite of this momentous change, it would be “business as usual” at Random House.
In order to get the full picture of what this merger means, one has to imagine an analogous scenario. For example, imagine what would happen if two of the world's largest oil companies, Exxon and Mobil, were to merge. Prices of oil would go up, because output by refineries would decrease due to lack of competition. The nation's... no, the world's energy needs would be held hostage to the bottom line of a self-serving oligopoly more interested in maintaining its position at the top of the hierarchy of multinational corporations than the needs of a dependent populace. And, while average families would shell out increasing proportions of their income for gasoline, the oil monopoly would have little incentive to develop new ideas and new ways of increasing supply to fit demand. The very size of immense corporate structures does not allow for innovation.
Wait a minute... it's already happened.
And now it's happening again, only this time it is not an oil trust that has us in a stranglehold, it is the monopolistic control of ideas.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the ins and outs of the publishing world, Random House is owned by a private, family-owned German company, Bertelsmann. For the last 30 years, Bertelsmann has been quietly gobbling up the world's media outlets. One of its corporate divisions, RTL, is Europe's largest broadcasting and production company. With programming rights in 150 countries, it is currently the largest independent TV distribution company outside the United States.