The world’s largest trade book publisher came by its name as a joke.
Co-founders Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer, already owners of the Modern Library, called their new venture Random House in 1927 because they expected to publish whatever books they liked. And what they liked, readers liked, too, year after year. For the first half of 2022, Penguin Random House reported €1.9 billion in revenue.
Over the last century, all of publishing, not just Random House, has developed in ways that Cerf and Klopfer never imagined. Books are a global business today that throws off profits and spinoffs in a diverse media environment.
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Leading into the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, Rüdiger Wischenbart has surveyed this dynamic world, one increasingly dominated by digital, for his annual report, Global 50: The Ranking of the Publishing Industry.
“We saw over the past several years, and the pandemic was only an accelerator for that, that the very big trade publishing houses, consumer book publishing houses, have done their homework very, very properly,” Wischenbart observes.
“The very difficult moment of the pandemic, when bookshops had to shut down, when people were stuck at home in many major markets for lockdowns, that did not really impact the revenue or the profitability of these publishing companies. Guess what? Nothing was random here at all. It was really based on very hard work,” he tells me.