Media: Inside Publishing

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The Independent Online
Naughty but nice

When the news of Bertlesmann's acquisition of Random House broke last week, publishers were incarcerated in the fetid atmosphere of the annual London International Book Fair. The deal - which won't be finalised until July - was an extraordinarily well kept secret. This newspaper, along with the FT, was the only one to carry a story ahead of the announcement) and more than one person thought it was "an early April Fool".

The take-over of the American company by the German conglomerate has yet to receive US approval. Staff on both sides were repeating the mantra of "business as usual" and pointing out that Bertlesmann are model owners and that, anyway, nobody in their right mind would start to tinker with publishers as successful as Random House and Transworld, the UK companies concerned.

And yet, and yet. Business is business. Surely, sooner or later, accounts, warehousing, distribution - all the unglamorous, parts of the two companies at least - will be merged, inevitably entailing job losses?

And what does it mean for authors? The new grouping brings together a motley collection of big names that, in Britain at least, includes Pope John Paul, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gorbachev and Jilly Cooper. All of them can fend for themselves. It is "everyday" authors who have cause to feel nervous for the bringing together of so many lists can only mean fewer slots for authors.

Okay, so Britain publishes far too many books; a reduction is no bad thing. But what tends to happen is that good authors with moderate yet respectable sales get lost as editors rush to publish "guaranteed best- sellers". Many of those publishers who have prospered in recent years (Hodder Headline, Little Brown, Fourth Estate) are on a human scale. Indeed, for such players, the Bertlesmann scenario may be pleasing, as any number of good authors seem to become available - voluntarily or otherwise.

Meanwhile the displeasure expressed by virtually every agent in town can be given an altogether different spin. At present, Random House and Transworld group publishers may bid against each other - but probably not for much longer. Fewer competing publishers almost certainly means a lower closing price - and that means less money for agents. Certainly, nobody will cry over that.

More news of Diana

As Boxtree and the Daily Mail debate the precise authorship of Diana: The Untold Story comes news of another Diana book - the only one officially sanctioned by the Trust. Diana - Her Life in Fashion, by former Vogue staffer Georgina Howell, is set to raise around pounds 100,000 for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and will be published by Pavilion in September. With contributions from a roster of top-notch designers and photographers and an introduction by her friend Liz Tilberis, the Harpers & Queen editor who battled cancer, the book seems certain to be an international success.

Meanwhile, Blake Publishing, for whom nothing is too tasteless, has unveiled plans to publish the memoirs of Gennifer Flowers. Scheduled for next month, Sleeping with the President promises page after page of unrivalled sleaze and alleges that Hillary is gay and that Bill has been known to sniff a little.