Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Big Six Publishers

Back in July I blogged about different models of publishing, especially in relation to religion. I circulated the following piece in our office to raise awareness about the major publishers, about whom we are occasionally asked. The following provides a brief profile of each of the Big Six publishing houses.

The “Big Six” publishers are the powerhouses of English-language trade publishing. They are all owned by larger conglomerates. While they began as single publishing houses in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during the latter part of the twentieth century they either acquired other publishers or were acquired by or merged with larger corporations. They now include numerous imprints with specialties and foci.

They are able to acquire the biggest names in fiction (e.g., John Grisham, Dan Brown) and nonfiction (e.g., Martha Stewart, Dr. Phil McGraw) by their large advances ($50,000+) and large print-runs (50,000+ copies). The downside of their marketing and printing strategy is that they have to grant huge discounts (often 70%) to distributors such as Wal-Mart and Costco and absorb large returns (sometimes tens of thousands of copies). The material below is summarized from Wikipedia, About.com, and the publishers’ websites.

Random House
The largest trade publisher in the world, Random House is a division of the German conglomerate Bertelsmann AG (with approx. 2,000 divisions and subsidiaries), which acquired Random House in 1998. Founded in 1927, by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer, Random House made some of its first literary waves when it defended its U.S. publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses in court. Now publishing widely, Random House moved into the children’s market as far back as the 1930s and, in 1960, made one of its most significant acquisitions, buying Alfred A. Knopf. Now an imprint at Random, Knopf remains one of the most widely-recognized literary imprints in the business, publishing such luminaries as John Cheever, Willa Cather, and John Updike, along with more recent notables like Cormac McCarthy and Alice Munro. Notable imprints: Doubleday Broadway, Alfred A. Knopf, Bantam Dell, Crown Publishing Group.

Penguin Group
Penguin Group is the second largest trade publisher in the world, after Random House, and is a division of the British conglomerate Pearson PLC. Penguin Group has locations across the globe and the American division, formally called Penguin Group USA, is housed on Hudson Street in New York City. Penguin Group dates to 1838 when George Palmer Putnam and John Wiley founded the company in New York. Although Penguin is a major publisher that, like all the other big trade houses, publishes the full breadth of literature, it’s often identified, especially outside the industry, for its Classics series. It publishes in over forty imprints. Notable imprints: Dutton, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Viking, Prentice Hall, and Riverhead Books.

HarperCollins
A subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, News Corp, HarperCollins is headquartered in New York City (with offices in Grand Rapids and Nashville) and has outposts in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and other locations. HarperCollins owns the Christian publishers Zondervan and Thomas Nelson. Founded in 1817 by two brothers, James and John Harper, its early authors included Mark Twain, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, and the Brontë sisters. It has over twenty imprints. Notable imprints: William Morrow, Avon, HarperOne, Harper Perennial, Zondervan, Thomas Nelson.

Macmillan
Macmillan is a collection of publishing companies owned by the German company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck. Macmillan was originally founded in 1843 by Daniel and Alexander Macmillan from Scotland. The company is home to a collection of trade publishers, academic publishers, and a few magazines. In 1985 Holtzbrinck acquired Holt, Rinehart and Winston, and in 1994 it acquired a majority interest in Farrar, Straus & Giroux. In 1995 Holtbrinck acquired Macmillan. Macmillan’s trade houses are based in New York City in the historic Flatiron building. Notable imprints: St. Martin’s Press, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Palgrave Macmillan, Picador, and Henry Holt.

Simon & Schuster
Simon & Schuster, aka S&S, was founded in 1924 by Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster. S&S is owned by CBS Corporation. Today S&S, which is a major trade house, releases about 2,000 titles a year in 35 imprints. Notable authors include Jimmy Carter, Bob Dylan, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Bob Woodward. Notable imprints: Simon & Schuster, Scribner, Free Press, and Pocket Books.

Hachette Book Group
Formerly known as Warner Books, Hachette is the smallest of the “big six” publishers and got its current name when it was acquired by the European conglomerate Hachette Livre (the largest publisher in France, founded in 1826 by Louis Hachette), which is a subsidiary of Lagardère (based in Paris), a multi-media corporation. When the company was Warner Books, it was under the Time Warner banner, and a sister company to media giants like Time Inc. and Warner Brothers. Now officially known as the Hachette Book Group USA (HBGUSA for short), it’s known for a few of its big marquee imprints. And, although the Hachette name is not that old, the company is steeped in history; it began back in 1837 when one of its flagship imprints, Little, Brown & Company, was established. Hachette also acts as a distributor—i.e. handles the distribution of books from publishers to booksellers—for some smaller publishers like Weinstein Books, Phaidon Press, and Chronicle. Its most notable authors include Gustave Flaubert, Michael Connelly, David Baldacci, J. D. Salinger, Alice Sebold, and Jon Stewart. Notable Imprints: Grand Central, Twelve, Little, Brown & Company, Orbit, and FaithWords.

3 Comments

  1. Great round-up. Soon to be Big Five, given the merger of Random House and Penguin.

  2. J. Tanner,Yes, mass market are seipprtd and the cover returned for credit. The publishers have slowly been reducing the amount of credit off of full credit, so there is some pain for the stores now, and of course labor costs. And the publishers have many, many different programs that stores can chose, from high discount no return to low discount almost-full return. And with the sales declining in mass market, the publishers have been far, far more careful to push out too many copies, cutting the percentage of returns from 50% or higher in the old days to around 25% now. But, of course, this also then stops market penetration and many customers who might buy it never see the book now, thus the cycle goes on and sales decline and the spiral heads downward. Trade paper and hardbacks are often full-copy return with a restocking fee. Lower discounts. Stores can get higher discounts and no returns depending on order size. Most small publishers never allow returns at all. In 1987, when I started Pulphouse Publishing, it was fully nonreturnable except for the magazines into the major stores. Those I was forced into returns, but all books were nonreturnable. The comic book transition and what happened with it is one reason why publishers were afraid to do the same with books, but now that electronic books are coming in strong, the returns system will just slowly fade away over years, more than likely remaining as only a low-discount option for some stores and some retailers. The returns system started back in the depression as a way to help stores, and got stuck. Electronic books are changing it finally. The bargain book shelves in all major stores were books purchased directly for those shelves. Seldom did a book get actually discounted like you would see a shirt get discounted that didn’t sell in a clothing store. The books on the major store discount tables were bought for those spots. And there were entire publishers in business to fill those discount spots. Only recently has a number of programs started to appear that allow books to be discounted that were bought on return. One is the discount in place program some publishers have, where they give the store credit for not shipping the book back, but instead just discounting it. Of course, if the books were bought without return, then the store can do what they want with the price. This is one reason why I scream at writers who think 99 cents is a good price for an electronic book. We have had decades and decades of training of book readers that a book in a discount bin is either a cheap book or one that didn’t sell. That’s not where I want my new book being thought of. Did I buy books from discount tables in stores? All the time. But it never had the same feel or care than a book bought for $24.99 off the main shelf and I often never read the discount books I bought.

  3. Just wanted to say that the rereasch that supports these claims is at best really shady.And, for all of those silly people saying stuff about how science isn’t the only way to know things, this is a scientific claim. They’re claiming that this is scientific knowledge. So nobody cares if there are other ways of knowing things, the fact is that this is being falsely presented as science. If these people know that water has memory, but know it in some non-scientific way, they shouldn’t present their knowledge as scientific. I know that for some reason, a lot of the posters are somehow uplifted by the idea that this is true, but let’s just put it this way: if homeopathy worked, we’d all be dead. Water would retain the memory of all of the toxins and poisons and feces and virus and bacteria it touched, and we’d drink it and die. So Thank God homeopathy isn’t true.

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