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Random House CEO on the E-Book Age

'The Printed Book Will Still Dominate for a Long Time to Come'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Random House CEO Markus Dohle, 42, discusses the world's biggest publisher's plans for the e-book age, his company's tough negotiations with Apple and why the printed book will continue to dominate publishing.

Wednesday, 8/4/2010   12:28 PM

SPIEGEL: Mr. Dohle, your rise to the top post in the world's largest book publishing company two years ago was met with disdain in the literary community, especially in New York, where Random House is headquartered. You were seen as an outsider who had made a career at Random House's parent company Bertelsmann in Germany, in the book printing and logistics business. Did you receive a correspondingly icy reception?

Markus Dohle: Let's put it this way: The creative community was very surprised. And so was I, by the way. There were a few question marks at first, even within our company, which is why I immediately spoke with as many people as possible. After that, the first shock within the intellectual Manhattan establishment quickly disappeared.

SPIEGEL: Did you work your way through the literary canon in preparation?

Dohle: There was no time for that. I was set up in the United States within a few days. It went very quickly. And when I started the new position, I was in the process of reading the Random House book "You're in Charge -- Now What?" It was certainly appropriate reading material.

SPIEGEL: Aren't you worried about embarrassing yourself while making small talk about literature with authors and agents?

Dohle: I do happen to have 15 Frankfurt Book Fairs under my belt and have spent my entire professional life in the book business at Bertelsmann. I've met plenty of major authors and publishers in the process. The book industry is a very creative environment. Ultimately, however, it's about making money with books.

SPIEGEL: As publisher, which of your authors did you meet first?

Dohle: Dan Brown …

SPIEGEL: … the bestselling author who is one of your most important sources of profits worldwide.

Dohle: That was on my first day at work in New York. I was in the office at 8 a.m. Dan Brown knocked on my door at 10. He was in the city and had taken the opportunity to come and meet me. In other words, the author was welcoming the new head of Random House. I appreciated that, and it resulted in a good personal relationship.

SPIEGEL: At the time, Random House had already been waiting for Brown's latest book, "The Lost Symbol," for some time.

Dohle: That's why I saw his visit as a good omen. In other words, it was telling me that it surely wouldn't take much longer. And that's exactly how it happened. "The Lost Symbol" came out in 2009 and was very successful.

SPIEGEL: Do you see yourself now as a publisher, and not just as a manager?

Dohle: I see myself as someone who has to strike a balance between creativity and profitability. Of course, I read a lot more today, which is also because I always have my books with me, not always in printed form, but on my electronic reading devices. I read whenever I have a few minutes to spare.

SPIEGEL: When you see people reading on the train, who do you like better, the reader with the iPad or the one with the book?

Dohle: I like both…

SPIEGEL: …because you make money with both.

Dohle: But that's precisely our opportunity. I'm pleased to see a reader who's reading on his iPad or Kindle. Without these devices, perhaps we wouldn't be able to reach that person at that very moment, because he might have left his book at home. But we always have him on the electronic reader. That minute of reading is a gift.

SPIEGEL: You sound really enthusiastic.

Dohle: Yes. I grew up with printed paper, but I have to admit that I'm surprised at how quickly the digital business is growing, especially in the United States. Nevertheless, the printed book will still dominate for a long time to come.

SPIEGEL: How much of your turnover comes from e-books?

Dohle: It's around 8 percent in the US right now, which represents a huge increase. I can imagine that we'll end up above 10 percent next year.

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