Strategy: The Big Merge
"For digital, you don't need size," says Brantley. "You need an ability to hire good software engineers and UX [user experience] designers, and to work rapidly with creative people to put new concepts out in the marketplace. Publishers need to be rethinking delivery and interaction, and I don't think those companies are putting themselves in a position to do that more efficiently."
Publishers will need to partner not just with each other, but with companies that can help them "reach down into the fabric where the power resides," says Brantley, referring to the Internet and wresting control of distribution—and customer interaction—from the walled gardens the Apples, Amazons and Googles have created. "How can publishing, broadly defined, take advantage of the mechanisms of network facilities? The underlying Internet. How can you create a more open, direct-to-consumer engagement without being dependent on the tech gardens that obviously work very well in many cases, but that create lock-in?"
In the future, figures Brantley, the mergers that matter won't be between, say, two publishers. "We'll see a whole range of different kinds of companies merging. Very transitional companies like Book Shout or Own Shelf are seeking to provide in a very contemporary way a vendor-neutral bookshelf, a place to aggregate the content and move it out of the proprietary platforms that companies provide."
The sense one gets from speaking to industry vets is that, although the merger is and will continue to be news, publishers have joined forces, consolidated, acquired and consumed one another for years. Anyone remember when Fawcett was an independent entity? Fawcett is now part of Ballantine, which is in turn part of Random House. How about Putnam? Or Avery? Or Crown?