Boyd Tonkin: Whatever the fate of his papers, Murdoch craves a bigger share of books

The Week in Books

Readers of Antifragile, Nassim Taleb's intellectual blockbuster, may feel the urge to slot almost everything and everyone they come across into one of its basic categories.

Taleb plays this game himself, and recently contrasted "fragile" general David Petraeus - a stiff soldier broken by a single indiscretion - with the "antifragile" roll of Boris Johnson from one survivable scrape and pickle to another.

This may be the wrong moment to proclaim it, but Rupert Murdoch's business empire may soon prove its underlying antifragility. Whatever the political upshot of the Leveson report, and even if Murdoch quits the British newspaper market, the family concern may thrive.

Meanwhile Sky TV, still 40 per cent Murdoch-owned despite his withdrawal of the bid for complete control in the wake of the hacking revelations, can boast 10.6 million British customers. That looks robust.

And now we know that, far from writing off the book-related corner of his enterprise as a burdensome throwback, Murdoch wants to expand it. His News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, made a play for Penguin Books when it emerged that the Big Bird was open to offers.

He was thwarted by the rival deal between Penguin and Random House. Undaunted, he has now authorised negotiations for a possible merger between HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster - currently part of the CBS conglomerate - just as News Corp prepares to split its publishing from its film and broadcasting interests.

Despite his tabloid travails in the little old UK, Murdoch evidently still likes the look of books and wants to invest in them. And, as his ruthless execution of the News of the World shows, he has never hesitated to cut his losses, turn the page and begin a new story.

The new wave of consolidation in publishing looks unstoppable. Such is the overwhelming might of the deadly digital sisters - Amazon, Google and Apple - that even the bulkiest of traditional book businesses feel that they have to super-size themselves in order to compete. If HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster do converge, then the British book scene will soon feature a mere trio of leading players.

In the "German" corner of the triangle will stand Bertelsmann's Random House and its junior partner, Penguin; the "French" niche will host the Hachette group, currently the biggest UK publisher with imprints that range from Weidenfeld & Nicolson to Headline and Little, Brown; while Murdoch's combined interests will occupy the "American" end of the line.

What about British firms? Reduced to independent bit-players, small in size but strong in character: in many ways, home-grown indies may enjoy a relatively bright future so long as they can innovate and co-operate. Besides, those shotgun marriages between the global majors may fall apart in acrimony before too long.

So why do the Murdochs care about books? Whatever their platform, print or electronic, they still generate "content" - or just stories, if you prefer - more efficiently than any other medium. And recent developments have shown that giant publishers see the boom in DIY authorship as a potential new oil-field. This week Simon & Schuster launched a joint venture with Author Solutions - a Penguin owned-outfit - to offer self-publishing packages for wannabe writers. However much drilling it takes, they still think that it's worth hunting for treasure in the ink - or the pixels.

This Christmas, as at every holiday season, film-goers will queue to see stories - The Hobbit (Tolkien); Life of Pi (Martel); Jack Reacher (Lee Child); Midnight's Children (Rushdie) - that began as simple words on the page. Nothing, as Taleb forcefully reminds us, is as "antifragile" as a book and the tales it can tell. Indeed, Taleb diagnoses "an absence of literary culture" as the key flaw of the sort of gadget-obsessed tecchie who will be stranded by the next trend. If Murdoch and his minions still yearn to sink resources into the creative word, they may be much less breakable than many of their foes would hope.

First prize for a second-hand book title

There is of course no copyright in titles. But should titular "borrowing" pass without comment? James Gleick's The Information, a history of communications systems, has won the Royal Society Winton Prize for science books. It is hard to imagine Gleick choosing such a handle for this work had Martin Amis not published his novel The Information in 1994. Yet the victim has form here. Amis's London Fields appeared in 1989, six years after John Milne's novel of the same name. What goes around...

A new big cheese from Switzerland

It must have been quite a while since the winner of the French Academy's hallowed Grand Prix du Roman also looked set to become a global bestseller on the Stieg Larsson scale. Yet that curious destiny seems to be in store for the 27-year-old Swiss writer Joel Dicker and his mystery novel La vérité sur l'affaire Harry Quebert, which also won the special Goncourt Prize chosen by high-school students and reached the shortlist for the main Goncourt.

Happily for his global prospects, the Genevan-born Dicker sets his second novel - in which a blocked author finds that his former teacher has been accused of murder - in small-town New Hampshire. Equally eccentric for a laureate of big Parisian prizes, Dicker cites Orwell and Steinbeck as key influences. Rights have been sold in 30 territories, but no word yet as to who will take on the English translation.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing