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Penguin Random House CEO Marcus Dohle was typically optimistic in his Zoom discussion with US organisational psychologist Adam Grant, author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, ahead of the US Book Show organised by Publishers Weekly.
He believes this is a good time to be in publishing and noted how, in terms of sales, the pandemic had been good for book sales. He said that “business went through the roof last year”, and that growth had continued into 2021 with print sales up about 25% into mid-May compared with the same period last year. Indeed, one of his messages was the durability of print.
He put forward six reasons for his optimism about the book business: the continued growth of the global book market; the industry’s “robust model” for print and digital distribution; the happy co-existence of print and digital (80% print, 20% digital) in the market; rising literacy rates around the world which create new readers; the fast-growth of the children’s book market; and the boom in audiobook sales which is surely connected to the insatiable appetite for the use of mobiles.
Looking ahead, Dohle said that PRH wanted to grow “in all channels” and added that the publisher had recently extended payment times to help physical booksellers. Among changes he would like to see is the bundling of physical books with digital, but admitted that this required a further discussion with regard to author royalties.
He recalled that in 2017 he decided to go on a “global road show” to spread the message that “this is the best time to be in publishing since Gutenberg [and] the vast majority of the growth comes from the printed format”. Fours years later this optimism is still with him and, crucially, he believes the pandemic has created more readers. How will PRH keep them, Grant wanted to know. “Publish good books” was Dohle’s swift reply.