Tom Weldon: 'Book readers don't want subscription'

Tom Weldon: 'Book readers don't want subscription'

Penguin Random House's c.e.o. Tom Weldon has said the company will not be exploring subscription, as he not convinced it is what readers want.

Weldon, in conversation with The Bookseller's editor Philip Jones at today's FutureBook conference, said PRH UK is betting on three things for the future - books, kids and new ways of connecting authors and readers.

"The format of books isn't the challenge posed by digital," Weldon said. "The challenge is about how you get noticed and how you get paid. If you have the very best books and authors of every kind, and publishers and editors, there is a chance you're going to stand out."

PRH UK has so far not entered into any deals with subscription services such as Scribd and Oyster, although other publishers such as HarperCollins have.

Weldon said: "We have two problems with subscription. We are not convinced it is what readers want. 'Eat everything you can' isn't a reader's mindset. In music or film you might want 10,000 songs or films, but I don't think you want 10,000 books."

Weldon also said the company did not "understand the business model", and who made money.
But he acknowledged that subscription could work "in certain markets around the world in emerging economies where access to books and bookshops is extremely limited".

Weldon said that PRH's focus was on great content, and on obtaining IP, particularly in the growth area of children's, and on getting readers to connect with its books and authors, but that he didn't mind where readers bought books from.

"We are not betting on becoming a retailer," he said. "It is naive and arrogant to think Penguin Random House could become a retailer."

Weldon cited companies such as Google, Barnes & Noble, Tesco and Sainsbury's, and said if they were struggling to succeed in the e-book market, PRH would also struggle.

Yesterday (13th November) Hachette Book Group in the US and Amazon reached new terms, with Weldon saying he wasn't sure the deal made anything more stable as the terms were unknown.

"The book ecosystem is quite delicate and finely balanced," he said. "I think we need to work with all retailers as partners."

Part of the book ecosystem are self-published authors, whom Weldon said complemented the rest of the industry, and voices from new media, such as YouTuber Zoella, whose first fiction title will be released this month by Penguin.

"I bet you Zoella will be number one this Christmas," said Weldon.

Questioned on author earnings by Jones, Weldon said that PRH was always looking at how much authors were being compensated, but for the moment the 25% digital royalty rate would not be changed.

"Authors are, alongside readers, the foundation of our business," he said. "We are always, always looking at our commercial arrangements with authors to make sure they're fair and equitable. With e-book royalties, firstly and most importantly, the business model is as clear as mud. Rather than arguing about what slice of the cake we should distribute, we need to work out how big the cake should be."