A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 08 February 1997
This week, the House got even more Random as it acquired (subject to the usual legal checks) the trade books division of Reed Elsevier. So what, you ask. Well, buy any book that carries the colophon of Cape, Secker, Methuen, Chatto, Vintage, Hutchinson, Heinemann, Mandarin, Minerva, Century or Sinclair-Stevenson - and you will enrich a single set of suits. If publishers were airlines, Richard Branson (who is one himself, though he often forgets it) would be taking out ads to curse this monopoly.
Reed's deal follows a long-running debacle in which its management tried and failed for an entire year to offload its imprints. It emerged that City folk didn't give the proverbial monkey's toss for Reed's classy stable of novelists: John Banville, Peter Ackroyd, Rose Tremain, Gunter Grass und so weiter. No - what really rang their bell were the merchandising spin-offs from Reed's children's books, such as Thomas the Tank Engine.
As my colleague John Walsh wrote, the Random-Reed takeover looks like "a brontosaurus slowly, and pointlessly, ingesting a triceratops". But it has changed the ecology of publishing's Jurassic Park. Random House now looks a sight taller than other Anglo-American beasts: Viking Penguin, Little,Brown and Murdoch's HarperCollins. Meanwhile, a German axis now controls Bantam-Black Swan (through Bertelsmann's Transworld) and Macmillan- Picador (via Holtzbrinck).
An iron law of business history shows that leviathans grow slow and stupid until bits fall off them. But book buyers can still choose to feed the trim velociraptor tendency: quick-witted independents such as Faber, Fourth Estate, Harvill and the smart infant, Granta. Indeed, on Thursday night, Fourth Estate picked up the title of Publisher of the Year at the British Book Awards. And it was Dava Sobel's surprise blockbuster Longitude - Book of the Year at the same event - that ensured the firm's triumph. Longitude suffered a dozen rebuffs from bigger, duller houses before Fourth Estate spotted its potential. In publishing, there's a heap of evidence that huge equals dumb. How long before the latest Titanic combine veers off course and hits an iceberg?
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Mayor says there should be 'no comparison' to Ferguson
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 Northern Lights in the UK: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Christmas TV guide 2014: The best shows to watch from Doctor Who to Downton Abbey
Merry Xmas Everybody: Slade tops 'most-streamed' Spotify Christmas tunes of 2014
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever