Bertelsmann, which owns Random House, has a new CEO. And apparently he's promised to shake things up there, in a manner that Richard Alan Dickson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch think bodes ill for the whole publishing-actual-books thing that has traditionally been Random House's business.
Of course, the businesspeople who run publishing houses are none too crazy about this whole book and literature thing in the first place. Bertelsmann's CEO specifically mentions "further consolidating and strengthening our portfolio."
Dickson translates the CEO's statements as: RIGHTS GRAB!!! and indeed, he's probably correct. But what I think that's going to be a part of is an even greater focus on properties that Bertelsmann owns that are already popular.
Think about it: If you are a media company, and you own many, many different properties, then "consolidating and strengthening" means putting even more attention into the proven winners. More Transformers! More re-makes, and re-makes of those re-makes, and then they get re-made some more! More boring crap we've already seen 1,000,000,000,000 times!
The focus is going to be on the old, on the predictable sellers. The focus is not going to be on the new and unproven, like new voices and new writers who are writing their own stuff. No way. New writers were already too risky, and now they're going to be freakin' radioactive.
Literature? Oh, Lord no! Creativity? DO NOT WANT.
That's going to be the easy way to do it--a lot easier than building a brand around a publisher, which seems to be the big idea in some quarters.
I do kind of wonder who they will get to write this stuff. I did ghost myself and everything I ever wrote professionally was a work for hire, so I suppose the answer should be clear to me: People who want full-time work, who need health insurance, and who want to learn the ropes without shelling out for an MFA degree.
Buuuuut it does seem like nowadays the tradeoff is worse--you're giving up a 70% royalty for...whatever you get. More marketing behind that book, yeah, but 1. it's not like you get a percentage--work-for-hire typically means you get a lump sum and that's it--and 2. they'll be marketing the property to its fanbase, not you to yours (and your name might not even be on it). Unless your dream in life is to crank out Herbie Goes to Burkina Faso from a ready-made outline, to a specific page length, following a strict style sheet, and featuring the required product placements, I just don't think getting published by Random House is going to have much appeal.
You might think it unlikely that a company like Random House would just stop generating new properties, but you know, why the hell not? I write science fiction, so I've had a front seat to the willingness of large publishers to simply retreat from producing new works.
Nowadays the majority of bestselling Amazon e-books in the sci-fi genre are indie. You might look at that and think, "Those fools!" but it actually makes sense to leave unprofitable markets to those who can make money in them. Those who can nowadays are the self-published writers. And I think more and more of the market will be left to us.