Book Publishing's Global Renewal

WHEN asked if the US publishing industry would claim a dominant position in bookselling for the 1990s, Alberto Vitale quickly replies, ``US publishers will be preeminent in world trade. I would not use the word dominant.'' He is in a position to know. Recently named chief executive officer of Random House, one of the premier (some would say the premier) commercial book publisher in the world, he now heads a company that prints some 1,000 new titles a year.

``Generally speaking, we will see more attention paid to quality than to quantity,'' says Mr. Vitale, more in the way of a suggestion than a statement about the course of publishing in the '90s during an interview in his Manhattan office.

Industry observers credit Vitale with both business and editing acumen. Born in Italy but raised in Egypt when his parents fled Nazi persecution because of their Jewish faith, he is now an American citizen. His style at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where he was president and chief executive, combined the drive and energy associated with American business culture and the sophistication and nuance often associated with Europeans. He speaks six languages.

What of mega-mergers, new electronic technologies, changing, global markets? ``A process of renewal that is inherent, basically in life,'' is what we are witnessing in the publishing industry, he says. ``New technology, is it not a reflection of renewal?'' he asks. Rather than being overwhelmed by changes, book publishers will try to shape the direction of changes, they will be looking for ``synergies'' with European and other world markets, he says.

``Europeans are more receptive to US authors than Americans are to European authors,'' says Vitale. The reasons for this have more to do with the American bent toward cultural insularity than a lack of interest in other cultures or market aggressiveness. But there are opportunites throughout the English-speaking world for expanding markets and American publishers, whether or not they are US owned, will be greatly involved, he says.

Will there be further foreign takeovers of major US publishers? Possibly, but regardless of who owns a company, the editing, marketing, and creative efforts will be done in the US, he says.

Turning the tables Vitale asks: ``Do you know which country is the second largest English-language country in the world? Nigeria, some 100 million.'' He then speaks of new international markets. ``The thirst for western literature is urgent. In China and Russia it is tremendous.'' All of Eastern Europe is opening up, and the opening is one as much intellectual as economic - a positive coincidence for anyone in the book business, he says.

However, the extent of a Chinese market for English books, or that of South Africa as well at this time, is wholly dependent on political developments, he says.

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