High RoI reads | Publishing industry

I have always been curious about the publishing industry. Through my work, only sometimes I got to travel in that direction. Twice, to be precise. In one case, the journey went as far as understanding the yellow pages industry and some specialist low circulation magazines. And more recently, trying to find independent consumer magazine titles as part of industry landscaping for potential PE/ M&A transactions in Australia led me to the realisation that most of the magazine publishing world is highly concentrated (Bauer group and Conde Nast pretty much own the fashion and consumer stuff. Not the business press*)

Then, as and when I read Virginia Woolf’s diaries, and about her Hogarth Press and all her Bloomsbury set, or on reading Bolano’s 2666 and its reference to a German publishing house, there was a note often scribbled to self to understand the industry a bit better.

Part of the reason for this interest stays the vague, romantic desire of someday in the distant future, owning a bookstore. (I know, I know it is not a business idea. Rather, humouring an indulgence). So getting to know the industry is understanding your supplier base (even though, once or twice removed). And the other part is just the curiosity that any PE person has about how any sector/ industry works. The first few questions you try to address.

So when recently I came across this infographic (being the key point of this post), I decided to follow it up until it entertains me. The picture sums up the ownership of book publishing companies – their brief history. The five majors as they are known. Used to control half the book publishing market, but now it is a rapidly declining share.


Source – Infographic Guide to Literature (Hachette UK).

One of the first thing that flashes on reading this chart is the concentration in the industry. Just a glance through my bookshelf tells me that several of the titles are from these publishing groups/ their imprints. May not be enough for a sample. However, here is a list of the imprints owned by these houses, and you’ll find most of the names there. (Not up to date given the M&A activities)

Trying to understand more, led me to this interesting article. This talks about the state of the book publishing business. And a related article on declining sales!

And here is a list of all publication businesses listed in terms of revenue. The industry is constantly on the move, consolidation increasing. Following is a snapshot of top 20 from the list (And this being a general list, not specific to book publishing).


Top 20 publishing.png

One of the pieces to explore is the industry split across newspapers, magazines and books (and databases?). Books also include textbooks. Most of the notes here are for books. Perhaps one of the thing to sort them on, is the revenue split across ad-revenue and subscription (or sales). Since the source of the revenue for each of these industry segments is different, all these segments behave quite differently. And what happens on the book publishing scene is quite unique and independent of the other related sectors.

Perhaps some of the questions to look up further:

  • Recent M&A activity
  • Market share details
  • New upcoming players?
  • Independents
  • A better understanding of revenue and margins. Prospects?
  • Just as a curiosity, an understanding of the magazine owners.

Enough for the time being. Will explore more and will add notes/ links here. (Yet to find a good, high RoI all encompassing read. But the infographic was the trigger to this post, and the infographic is quite high RoI).



*Business Press. Here are the majors by circulation (2005)

  • Time
  • Wall Street Journal
  • Business Week
  • Fortune
  • Forbes
  • The Economist
  • Financial Times
  • Harvard Business Review







High RoI reads | Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

Unflattening by Nick Sousanis.

Graphic literature

As the author mentions, there are two distinct kinds of awareness – the sequential and the simultaneous. The comic form or graphic literature form intertwines the two: language providing the sequential thread and the images and the drawings provide the simultaneous input – the picture, for a fuller, better understanding and appreciation of what the author is communicating.

I do not often read graphic novels. Perhaps never consciously picking them up. Just a few loved comics and fun websites to visit (xkcd, smbc, zenpencils). Or what was read while growing up, or as I introduce the kid to some of the characters I read about growing up.

However, this book caught my attention as one of the new acquisitions by the library. Browsing through the pages, as I came upon the graphic representation of the well-loved tale of flatlanders, I wanted to read more. It worked that it shared profound thoughts on the blurb – ‘perception is always an active process of incorporating and re-evaluating different vantage points.’

It didn’t take long. The pleasure of knowing what was inside was all mine within a couple of hours. And I loved it.

Unflattening the sight

The central premise of the book stays opening yourself up to new ways of seeing, to new view points, to new vantage points – a journey towards multidimensional thinking, rather than staying trapped in confined ways of approaching the world. Which all perhaps springs from recognising that what you see is part of the picture, and hence seeking out better perspectives, better vantage points to fill in the gaps of understanding. Knowing that there are unknowns, and gradually gaining an appreciation of the unknowns and the dimensions not yet known.

A kindred spirit

When you start reading a work where you recognise some of your own thoughts and ideas, and when it resonates of your own pursuits of figuring out the world better, where the author believes in the same thing as you do, there is a feeling of finding a kindred spirit. A connection. An affinity.

Not saying that I am able to think and perceive at that level, but saying, that I am a traveller, a student of the same path* where perhaps the author is much, much further ahead. And that is why the book was so much more rewarding.


Reading through, I noted down many points. As I believe it is a pursuit, a way of life to train one-self in – the art of seeing. A few snippets/ quotes from the book which I wish retain and revisit for future inspiration:

Flatness of sight – A contraction of possibilities. Lacking a ‘critical dimension’ of potentialities to transcend their existing state. So pervasive are the confines – inhabitants neither see them nor realize their own role in perpetuating them.

Disrupting these deeply ingrained patterns takes a profound nudge – like the sphere gave to the square.

Unflattening is a simultaneous engagement of multiple vantage points from which to engender new ways of seeing.

Nothing changed – except the point of view, which changed everything.

The fundamental shift of viewpoint irrevocably ruptured a stasis of thought, the implications rippled outwards.

Italo Calvino wrote – “ Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don’t mean escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and recognition”

Distance between and differences of views are essential – as long as channels of communication remain open and alive.

We understand the new in terms of the known.

If we have a superpower, it’s the capacity to host a multiplicity of worlds inside us, all of us do. Frame of reference from which to see the same world differently, to make the familiar strange.

Would recommend it. Planning to buy the book for K and the kid. And for myself. Since this is a continuing pursuit – this improving the way of seeing – books like this accessed often, ensure the pursuit to continue.

(* My thoughts about seeing. I wrote a few months ago. In a different context, and from a different field, but the takeaways, or the way of looking at things is irrespective of where you apply it. Here.)


People | Aaron Swartz

I landed on his blog while looking up on Infinite Jest and re-reading parts of the book. Exploring reddit, trying to find what to read after Infinite Jest which works at the same level as IJ, I stumbled across this post by him predicting/ projecting what happens at the end of IJ. And I have been fascinated since.

In some vague sense, I was aware of Aaron Swartz, but not until I read this post, and explored through part of his weblog and his legacy, I realised what I have come across. It was ‘the Aaron Swartz’. The boy who could change the world. I got hooked. Read more around him, his Wikipedia page, this article in New Republic. I read about his short, tragic, intense life. And how much he could do in such a short life! I am glad that the links to his blog still work. It is an often visited site now, and I am still reading through.

Here is the blog, Raw Thought, and the series I am reading currently (Raw Nerve). And his Quote blog. And for an index to all of it, here is the archives page.

Also, to keep things objective, here is another article. Not in the best light.

What I like? The quantum of legacy left in such a  short life span. His thoughts on IJ. The intensity. His way of thinking about several things. The clear grasp of complicated issues which I often aspire to get at times.

Note for the blog

Category : People

Aaron Swartz can be the first entry on the new category of posts that I hope to add more on. People I am fascinated by. Sometimes, I look them up to get inspired. To learn something new. And sometimes, just interested in their thoughts, attracted by what they do. At other times, just intrigued, and wish to learn more about them.

People are a mix of thoughts, views, ideas – some of these are amazing, and what I hope to be inspired by. Some, not so much. But then, where was a perfect person ever? One just tries to look at the good and overlook the not-so-good.

This is a growing, changing, organic list. Perhaps represents the here and now.  And as I have often seen in myself, as times and seasons change, my current favourites get updated.  I also realise that I am often a latecomer to appreciating many famous artists, people. Once I discover them, my days are spent listening to their music, reading their blogs, or their books or looking up their work.  This seems a good way to add and keep a track of all those favourites and interests, even when they are a passing phase.

High RoI reads | Diamonds

I found this essay in Atlantic’s 150 years celebration of the American Idea a few years ago. This is one of the first examples of what I think is a very high RoI read.  It is always a pleasure to come across a mainstream, work-related thing written about in such literary form.

The way the essay explains and simplifies, and further explains, no amount of research reports, annual reports or data mining can do (in a short amount of time). It does something very unique. It engages you, holds your attention and sets the context – and sets the context in not just the formal, available to the market way, but with all the grapevine, gesture cues, body language and the soft information and the related context which is difficult to be gained by just reading reports on the screen.

Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?

After reading the above, if you get more interested in diamonds, here is a link to the Atlantic’s collection on diamonds over the years.

Just the possibility that there is a well written piece out there which is so spot-on in terms of imparting the soft knowledge of the industry leads me into this search mode again and again. And though sometimes, I come out disappointed after mining the internet, at other times what I get is equivalent to diamonds. And that is good enough.

Since we are still talking about diamonds, here is a report by Bain – and though this is more mainstream, it is a valuable one given the way it starts with the ABCs before getting into complex words.

High RoI reads

One gets to constantly read something or the other, and carries a long reading/research list. And one has only so much time. What I refer to high RoI reads are those, where, in respect to the time you invest reading that piece, you get a lot of value out of them.

RoI (Return on Investment, here the investment being time) is a subjective matter. It is a function of where you currently are and how much familiarity you might have with the topic. If you know a lot about diamonds, you might not draw much from an essay on one. But if you know little, and get a chance to read an insightful article, you learn a lot in limited time. Someone has already spent weeks and months of research putting together that well thought-through essay, making it relevant for the reader.

Not just long form articles, or essays, relevant books on certain topics, certain infographics offer that value as well. And the way these pieces are written – they illuminate as well as floor you and entertain you. What better way to use your time! I am always on a lookout for such reads, which allow one to scale up quickly from a position of not-understanding to understanding, way beyond the first level.

Under this header of High RoI on this blog, I’ll list what I feel are high RoI pieces from my point of view, as I come across them. This is part of the reason of this notebook as well, as I feel I’ll lose track if I do not collect them somewhere. Happy to receive feedback and suggestions.