The Big Five

Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon&Schuster, and Macmillan.  These are the last big American publishing companies; they have bought out, swallowed, and absorbed thousands of independent publishers that now make up imprints (such as Doubleday is to Penguin Random House). According to a 2016 article in Book Business, together these five account for 80% of US  trade publishing market.  They are what are considered “traditional publishing companies,” that is, they hire editors who work with authors on manuscripts that are then printed and bound and sold in bookstores as well as online.  Traditional publishing is believed to be the most stable form of contemporary publishing. However, there is an anxiety, if not a trend, of decreasing book sales.  According to Thad McIlroy of Book Buisness, “News Corp’s Q3 report, released in May, revealed that HarperCollins sales decreased by $44 million, or 11%.”  The article spends much of its time wrestling with the numbers available to the public, as none of the big five are required to release full financial reports.  The drops in sales across companies are chalked up to two factors: readership of older bestsellers declining, and declining ebook sales.  This item of declining ebook sales is intriguing information to the wary entrepreneur: the era of kindle and nook may be fading (I plan to look into this more in my next post.)  Consumers like physical books (partly because of how they convey status) and this, as of 2016, is beginning to show in consumer trends.  According to a 2017 article from The Guardian, “after reaching a peak in 2014, sales of e-readers and ebooks have slowed and hardback sales have surged. The latest figures from the Publishing Association showed ebook sales falling 17% in 2016, with an 8% rise in their physical counterparts.”  It appears the ebook wave has crested and fallen, so entrepreneurial pursuits in publishing are going to be safer in the physical realm, for now.

What the Big 5’s Financial Reports Reveal About the State of Traditional Book Publishing

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