Ahead of the London Book Fair, the UK head of Penguin Random House insists his industry has coped with the digital revolution better than any other
The indie booksellers are shutting up shop, authors struggle to make a living, and more than 60% of 18-to-30-year-olds would rather watch a DVD than get their nose in a book. But as the publishing world gathers at the annual London Book Fair this week, one of the UK’s leading publishers thinks the notion of the book industry in crisis is just a cliched old story.
“Some commentators say the publishing industry is in enormous trouble today. They are completely wrong, and I don’t understand that view at all,” says Tom Weldon, UK chief executive of Penguin Random House, one of the biggest players in Britain’s book world.
As an up-and-coming publisher, he persuaded a teenage chef called Jamie Oliver to sign a book contract. He gets to edit Jeremy Paxman‘s prose and read the latest Ian McEwan manuscript. And since last July he has been at the helm of the UK division of the world’s biggest publishing house, after a mega-merger brought together Penguin, Random House and their 15,000 writers.
While a recent Booktrust survey showing that reading for pleasure is declining among young people might lead some execs to reach for the chablis, Weldon is convinced book publishers are doing better than other creative industries in adapting to a digital world.
“In the last four years, Penguin and Random House have had the best years in their financial history,” he says. “Book publishers have managed the digital transition better than any other media or entertainment industry. I don’t understand the cultural cringe around books.”