Reader's Notes - Penguin-Random House Merger

In the past decade, much has been written about the demise of books, of reading, and of literacy  -- a cultural erosion fueled by the growth of digital media and a variety of personal electronic devices.  From my point of view as an educator going back to the days just before The Great Digitization, matters are not so alarming.  I have always been bemused about the hand-wringing over the decline of writing and reading.  My purely subjective experience tells me that, on the whole, young people write more and read more than they ever did, albeit in different ways than in the old exclusively print culture.

The merger between mega-publishers Penguin and Random House is an interesting development in that it should create a $4 billion-a-year company able to compete with Amazon -- at least in the reading business.  We should stop calling it the "book business," perhaps.  What the new Penguin-Random super-publisher will have that Amazon does not is the cultural capital of its people -- the editors, designers, and publishers who bring out thousands of titles each year.  If Amazon is open to the raw forces of the market as far as popularity is concerned, then Penguin-Random House might counterbalance the popularity-engine of Amazon with its own thoughtful, culturally informed perspective.

The global scale of both enterprises is unsettling, but consider that, for writers outside the super-publishers and super-retailers, The Great Digitization has opened up many venues for self-publication and self-promotion.  If anything, the alarm over "declining literacy" and "the death of books" is more likely driven by the fact that there's so much more information available through so many more channels than every before. Similar things have been said about film and music.  If anything, what's needed more than ever are experts who surf the waves of information for the good stuff -- and the search and selection tools to find it for ourselves.

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