April 4, 2018

Penguin Random House might need to tighten purse strings until the Obamas’ books are out


According to a report by New York Post’s Keith J. Kelly, Penguin Random House is feeling the financial pressure in 2018. Released last week, the major publishing company’s 2017 revenue “was flat at $4.1 billion and earnings were down 3 percent to $640.7 million.” And while the year’s gotten off to a rocky start, they’re banking on the Obama memoirs—set for publication November 13—to propel them into 2019.

Kelly also includes the overall revenue for PRH’s parent company, Bertelsmann–a German-based media company that oversees publishing, broadcasting, and printing companies throughout the world. “Bertelsmann reported revenues were up 1.4 percent, to $21.5 billion, while its profit hit a record high of $1.48 billion,” writes Kelly.

According to a Publishers Weekly report on global publishing leaders from last summer:

585 of PRH’s print and e-book titles were listed as bestsellers by the New York Times [in 2016]. In addition to the novels by [Paula] Hawkins and [Jojo] Moyes, top sellers included John Grisham’s The Whistler, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, and Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. The Dr. Seuss classics also sold more than 11 million copies combined.

But beloved authors like Dr. Seuss and hundreds of bestsellers didn’t add up to increased earnings, according to Kelly.

These numbers reflect the relatively-equally-divided PRH of the past, when Bertelsmann owned fifty-three percent of it, and Pearson still owned 47 percent. In late July 2017, Bertelsmann purchased another twenty-two percent of PRH from Pearson for a reported $1 billion. With increased control of the US publishing market, it’s clear Bertelsmann isn’t giving up any time soon.

Earlier this year, we reported on Michelle Obama’s new memoir, Becoming, which apparently cost PRH nearly $65 million. It will be released in twenty-four languages simultaneously.



Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.