Megamerger Publishing: Purchase or Perish Bookselling Expands to Multimedia Formats as Corporate Conglomerates Fight to Capture Buyers

By Piera Paine, | The Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 1994 | Go to article overview

Megamerger Publishing: Purchase or Perish Bookselling Expands to Multimedia Formats as Corporate Conglomerates Fight to Capture Buyers


Piera Paine,, The Christian Science Monitor


WHEN Charles Scribner III of Scribner's Sons, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing, received the press release with the snow-capped logo announcing Paramount Publishing's purchase of Macmillan for more than $500 million, his first thought, he says, was of his all-time favorite Paramount movie classic, "Breakfast At Tiffanys."

Although movies, television, and sports are the glamour girls of Paramount Communications, Paramount Publishing accounts for almost 40 percent of the parent company's revenue. The recent addition of Macmillan to a crown that already includes Prentice Hall and Simon & Schuster will make Paramount, with a combined $2 billion worth a year in sales, one of the most powerful publishers in the world.

The emergence of megamerger superpublishers with super buying power could mean sometimes rapid and sudden change in ownership, corporate management, technology, and marketing methods. Internal consolidation within the publishing industry and its convergence with the cable-television, telephone, and entertainment industries, could have a profound impact on what was once the sleepy "accidental profession" of publishing.

Paramount plans to shrink the number of books published under the Macmillan imprint. The name itself will disappear from from adult college textbooks and adult consumer books, and only a relatively small number of serious fiction and nonfiction titles will continue to be published under the venerable Scribner imprint.

The acquisition of a publishing house like Macmillan is part of a strategy on the part of corporate media conglomerates, such as Paramount Communications and Time-Warner, to create what Martin Davis, chairman and CEO of Paramount Communications, calls "proprietary intellectual properties" that can be distributed in a wide variety of multimedia markets.

From CD-ROM books or downloading research materials onto a home computer, to the hottest new novel promoted and sold from what may become a little kiosk on an interactive television shopping mall, the current trends in commercial book-publishing are going to favor "intellectual properties" that will readily shape-shift into a variety of marketable electronic formats.

"Certainly the problem today is that a retail bookstore only has so much shelf space, and they want to give that shelf space to the book that sells," says John Tinker, a financial media analyst at Furman Selz in New York. "The difficulty going forward is how to promote your book and cut through the clutter with all these choices."

One way to cut through the clutter will be to promote your book on the MTV or QVC Network Inc. home-shopping channels. Time-Warner also has plans for a special interactive "bookbuyer" service that will feature promotional videos and bestseller home shopping at the press of a button.

"The notion that everything becomes more instantaneous, in effect almost televisual, is a good model to use," says Rich Macdonald, a First Boston investment analyst. "If you can't instantaneously create six or seven different products out of a creative idea - usually that originates with the editor - then you're really wasting the internal resources of the business."

Creating those products will be the job of superpublisher editors like Judith Regan of Simon & Schuster. As the outspoken editor for books by megamouth radio personalities Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh, Ms. Regan already has a head start on that gold-brick road between publishing and Hollywood.

"The way I view it is that people in publishing basically act as readers for the movie industry, and we see a lot of material before anyone else does," Regan says. …

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