I believe in the future of literary fiction: Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House

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“Let me mention three major trends in publishing. First, a significant shift in sales towards online commerce/e-commerce. Second, the growth of digital audiobooks. And thirdly, the strength of the impression”.

“Let me mention three major trends in publishing. First, a significant shift in sales towards online commerce/e-commerce. Second, the growth of digital audiobooks. And thirdly, the strength of the impression”.

Markus Dohle is the Global Managing Director of Penguin Random House, the world’s largest specialty book publisher. In addition, he is president of the Association of American Publishers and serves on the board of directors of PEN and the board of directors of the National Book Foundation. Excerpts from an email interview:

Playwright David Hare has said that the two most depressing words in the English language are “literary fiction”. How do you view the future of literary fiction? People are reading more than ever, but is there still room for longer, more textured novels?

I believe in the future of literary fiction. I think fiction is more important than ever in today’s world because it helps people escape the endless cycle of current affairs by immersing themselves in big stories and complex characters. Additionally, the repetitive nature of fiction makes it the most enduring and viable category of publishing.

The book obituary is written every time a new threat arises – the e-book, Amazon and its crushing effect on independent booksellers, Netflix – and yet books in paper form have continued to survive. What do you think will be the future of the book?

Brilliant. Let me give you five reasons. First, book markets have grown over the past 15 years since the start of the digital transformation. Second, we have relatively stable business models for print and e-books. Third, we have achieved a healthy coexistence between print and digital formats. Fourth, international book markets are benefiting from changing demographics, growing world populations and rising literacy rates. And finally, children’s and young adult books have been the fastest growing categories over the past decade.

What are the most exciting technology innovations and platforms in publishing, and what future global trends do you foresee?

Let me mention three major trends in publishing. First, a significant shift in sales towards online commerce/e-commerce. Second, the growth of digital audiobooks. And third, the strength of the impression. As publishers, we will continue to be format independent and focus on publishing the best stories. In India, I’m excited about a new brand of e-shorts we’re launching called Penguin Petit. We curate content for this new platform from our physical books into the genres of fiction, children’s, self-help, erotica, and mythology, to name a few- one. Each e-short will be around 50 pages, designed for easy consumption on digital devices at a very accessible price.

Penguin Random House India recently invited actor Priyanka Chopra to give its annual talk. Many felt that a single literary space was overtaken by a celebrity. What is the role of publishers in protecting these literary spaces, while recognizing that commercial gains often fuel these spaces? Is it important to have these spaces or is it an elitist vision?

Priyanka Chopra’s talk was a huge success and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, the conference video alone garnered several million views. As publishers, we champion diverse voices and personalities, and clearly [hers] is an important voice. The annual Penguin Conference has always been a platform for artists from different professions and industries. We see it as a forum for writers, but also with a broader reach, for achievers and cultural icons from other industries as well.

In 2014, Penguin Random House retired Wendy Doniger’s
The Hindus: An Alternate History . Many felt that the cause of free speech had not been sufficiently championed on his behalf. As a PEN board member and publisher, where does this freedom come at a cost? Since the Doniger affair, the climate in India regarding censorship has only intensified. Has Penguin Random House revisited the Doniger case and its commitment to its authors’ right to free speech?

Publishers around the world attempt to navigate the terrain of freedom of expression in the context of different regions, territories, cultures, local circumstances, or even the challenges faced around a particular issue. Our goal remains the same: to make diverse voices and opinions heard.

Tishani Doshi is a writer, dancer and poet

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