I was surprised to order James Lee Burke's latest Dave Robicheaux novel, "A Private Cathedral," directly from the publisher, Penguin Random House.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the nation's largest publisher by far has increased direct book sales from upgraded warehouses, bypassing Amazon and Barnes & Noble, according to a profile of Penguin Random House CEO Madeline McIntosh in Sunday's New York Times.
Owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, Penguin Random House increasingly depends on blockbuster best-sellers like former President Barack Obama's memoir, the article reported. Obama's book will be published after the election.
With the emphasis on established authors and well-known personalities, the company publishes fewer emerging writers, the profile said.
Yet, the company encompasses "300 editorially and creatively independent imprints and brands," according to its web site, giving a variety of venues for unknown authors.
Giving most of its resources to established best-sellers like Richard Russo, Zadie Smith, John Grisham, Jon Meacham and Michelle and Barack Obama, the company also promotes younger authors like Yaa Gyasi and her award-winning debut novel "Homecoming," published in 2016 when she was 26.
Her recently released novel, "Transcendent Kingdom," is a critically praised best-seller.
The company also introduced the acclaimed young Irish novelist Sally Rooney, who has published two immensely popular novels before age 30.
Writers like Gyasi and Rooney skyrocket to fame, bypassing the old model of slowly building a readership with several books.
Traditional printed books have gained new popularity during the pandemic, but the company publishes 70,000 digital titles a year to only 15,000 printed titles. Audio books are also booming.
Penguin Random House's increase in direct sales opens a new field of competition with bitter rival Amazon.
With its range of imprints and products, the publisher could challenge Amazon's marketplace dominance, especially if the retailing giant is broken up. But the publisher's move into direct sales undercuts bookstores, its traditional marketing vehicle.
Even more consolidation of the publishing industry is expected, further narrowing readers' choices beyond mainstream best-sellers.