Monday Musings: Shrinkage, Bigness and Impending Doom!
The Incredible Shrinking Paper
On the train this morning, my friend pulled out the latest iteration of the Philadelphia Inquirer, now a diminutive 11'' by 11'' before unfolding—tabloid country, and one inch shorter (by my reckoning) than the city's alternative weekly, City Paper. "The physical change to the paper mirrors an industry standard adopted by many large U.S. papers, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Miami Herald," an announcement says, though, in holding the thing, I suspect I will always regard it as something of a scale model of a real newspaper. With plate-sized papers and post offices in strip malls, our old pillars of society are looking more and more like matchsticks. Ah well, at least the oil companies still know how to go big.
On the plus side is a redesign, which, while modest, does offer improved navigation and larger, colorful, magazine-like section headings—all apace with industry shifts as newspapers seek to find a print niche for themselves. Also coming soon: a true Inquirer.com website, giving the paper an online identity distinct from the regional portal that many newspapers adopted in the late ’90s (see Philly.com, NJ.com). —JS
The Amazing Merging Book Publishers
Given that the news of the Penguin/Random House merger broke as Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the New York area, second- and third-day stories have become second- and third-week stories. Indeed, mergers of megaliths in any industry should been taken with a dose of skepticism, and that's just how it's being analyzed.
In a piece titled "Book Publishing Crisis: Capitalism Kills Culture," Salon's Scott Timberg advocates for governmental protection of the arts: "We have a trade policy—we protect industries we value—and we have an anti-trust policy designed to protect consumers. We have arts and humanities endowments that assist institutions. But our cultural policy is mostly to let culture fend for itself in the open market. It works great, but sometimes it doesn’t."
Meanwhile, on a blogcritics.org piece picked up by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Erica Verrillo gets doom-and-gloomy, pointing to Random House parent Bertelsmann's past as a World War II German propagandist and wondering what the company's "neo-liberal" "think tank" owners may have up their sleeves.
Perhaps our favorite take on all of this is The Scholarly Kitchen's Joseph Esposito's. We directed you to this piece last week in Publishing Business Today, but it's worth a second shout. Esposito looks not so much at the ramifications of this deal, but at the implications of, and impulses toward, bigness in any industry.
But fear not: We suspect this is just the beginning of the Monday morning quarterbacking on this merger. Stay tuned for more.—BH