Choose your weapon: pen or sword?

For many years, Lothian was one of Australia’s proudly independent publishers: among other things, they published a great many memorable children’s books.
Around Christmas, Lothian announced that it had been sold to Time Warner Books.
Another independent bites the dust, we all thought. Writers react cautiously to such announcements until the implication are clear. Sometimes it spells the end of a brave publishing heritage: the dearth of poetry published by major publishers is one indicator of that change.
But life’s hard for small publishers these days – in fact, any days – and some authors will argue that it’s much better dealing with a large house with a range of imprints and greater resources.
It’s certainly been proved possible to retain an independent style, even as part of a large company: British feminist press Virago, for example, has already been part of the Time Warner company for some years, and has had some of its greatest and most controversial successes in that time.
But back to Lothian: Time Warner Books division has now in turn been purchased by Hachette Livre, owner in NZ of Hodder Moa, and a range of worldwide imprints and an impressive backlist – mostly obtained through last year’s purchase of Hodder Headline.
Nobody’s complaining too much about Time Warner Books finding a home in a company committed to publishing. It had been looking for new owners for some time, and there’s no suggestion of mass retrenchment or backlist sell-offs. The US$537 million deal makes Hachette the first French publisher to move into the US market and the world’s third largest group, after Pearson and Bertelsmann. It will also be the biggest in the UK, with a share of 16 per cent compared to 14 per cent for Random House.
But Boyd Tonkin in The Independent raises the issue of the multifaceted nature of Hachette Livre which makes money from both the “pen and the sword”: book publishing and munitions. So The Kangaroo Who Couldn’t Hop is not just in the same house as Tipping the Velvet – you can get a three-for-one discount on a nuclear warhead too.
Tonkin urges Hachette Livre to give up the bomb and learn to love the book.
But perhaps even more interesting is this:

“Hachette Livre will take over from the German firm Bertelsmann, owner of Random House, as effectively the biggest British book publisher. Factor in the 5 per cent or so of the UK market currently controlled by the Holtzbrinck family firm, via Pan Macmillan, and almost four out of every ten books sold in Britain will soon come from a company with French or German parents.
Talk to many French and German writers, and you will never hear the last of the way that ‘Anglo-Saxon’ cultural capitalism is crushing distinctive European identities under its brutal corporate heel. The balance-sheets tell a very different story.”

See A Week in Books

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