Everything’s up in the air. Pearson just sold its last 25% stake in Penguin Random House to Bertelsmann who now own the whole enchilada. Markus Dohle, CEO of PRH, commented: “The full acquisition of Penguin Random House is a testament to Bertelsmann’s belief in the future of books and reading” — which is great but . . . Is bigger really still better? One quaint feature of this deal is that Bertelsmann’s German trade publishing operations, Verlagsgruppe Random House will now become part of PRH, rather than the wholly-owned subsidiary of Bertelsmann that it remained after the 2013 merger of Random House and Penguin. PRH already has some 275 separate presses and imprints, and Verlagsgruppe Random House 47, which means that after the merger, PRH will have nearly 325 imprints reports Shelf Awareness.

No doubt Pearson can make good use of the $694 million they are getting for this sale to make up for the decline in the textbook market which continues to keep going. We are always being told that online is where the textbook business seems to be migrating, and whether or not that’s a less profitable environment than the print book world, there have to be serious costs involved in getting the ship turned around in order to deal with the brave new world. So who needs a spending downturn too? This chart comes from a story at Publishing Perspectives.

The decline is in average spending per student.

This second chart from the same source suggests that online isn’t eating into publishers’ lunch as much as we had assumed. Still, 18% is a biggish chunk when compared to zero a decade or so ago.

The fall off in average spending is exacerbated by declining student enrollments. And declining student enrollments, which are also causing consternation among colleges who now have to fight one another over individual prospects, are a result of an irresponsible populace who just refused to do enough breeding a couple of decades ago. (Also of course we are energetically engaged in national self-harming by our refusal to admit immigrants.) This glum climate makes to proposed merger between Cengage and McGraw Hill reported on in the Publishing Perspectives piece look less a triumphalist take-over than a desperate survival strategy.

The New York Times weighs in with a plaint from Tim Wu (also referenced in the PP piece) that college professors are ripping off students by forcing them to buy expensive textbooks. Apparently the cost of college textbooks has risen by 1,000% since the seventies. (Link via Lit Hub.) This can only worsen if fewer students are buying the things. (Retail price is directly related to print run.) And it was only a few years ago that it looked like this goose was set to keep going as a good layer of golden eggs.