Who the Big Six are and why it matters

books in bookstore

Without a Bix Six publisher, you’re unlikely to see your books stacked in the local store.
Photo by Bitterfly Media Inc.

Publishing pros often speak of the “Big Six,” that is, the top companies currently dominating the business. Each of them encompasses many subsidiaries, and each subsidiary may have a large number of imprints. Altogether, the Big Six encompass dozens, if not hundreds, of imprints. Getting published by any imprint at one of these big houses usually requires an agent. The exception would be if you met an editor at a conference. Or if you’re already famous.

Hachette Book Group. Formerly known as Warner Books. A subsidiary of Hachette Livre, which is based in France. Its U.S. imprints include Little, Brown & Co. and Grand Central Publishing.

HarperCollins. Part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. empire. Parent company of both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, which makes it the dominant player in the Christian submarket.

Macmillian. A conglomerate of publishing firms owned by Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, a German company. Macmillan’s subsidiaries include St. Martin’s Press and Tor, a major player in the science fiction and fantasy genre.

Penguin Group. Owned by England-based Pearson, Penguin is the second-largest trade publisher in the world. It has dozens of imprints, including Viking, Dutton, and G.P. Putnam’s Sons. It also owns Author Solutions, one of the most reviled book production vendors in the business.

Random House. A subsidiary of German conglomerate Bertelsmann, Random House is the biggest publisher in the world, which makes its proposed merger with Penguin particularly scary. It’s subsidiaries include some of the most well-known publishing firms in the country, including Doubleday, Alfred A. Knopf, and Waterbrook Multnomah.

Simon & Schuster. Based in New York, a subsidiary of CBS Corp. Its imprints include Scribner and Pocket.

Note that every one of these is part of a bigger media conglomerate. That so much of the volume of the American publishing industry has been consolidated in so few multinational corporations is one of the problems with the business. These six companies—five, if the Penguin/Random House merger is consummated—control most of what is available in bookstores. And despite the rise of Amazon and the fall of Borders, bookstores are still the primary way Americans buy their books.

UPDATE: Now it’s the Big Five.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

6 thoughts on “Who the Big Six are and why it matters

  1. […] Yesterday you mentioned imprints at the Big Six publishers. What’s an […]

  2. Linda Kennedy says:

    I listened to a teleseminar with Michael Hyatt and Jeff Goins last night on building a platform. Jeff Goins advocated self-publishing an e-book in order to get noticed. Michael Hyatt responded, saying that with all the tools of self-publishing available, it’s the greatest time to be a writer.

    • Yes, absolutely. I do think it’s important to specify that self-publishing your first book is a good way to build platform to get a big-house contract for your next book. I find a lot of people think they can self-publish a book and then get a traditional contract on that same book. Those kind of contract do happen, but they’re extremely rare.

  3. […] that are not part of the Big Six labyrinth are a vital part of the publishing business. The Big Six may dominate the bestseller lists and the […]

  4. […] The Big Six is now the Big Five, which somehow just doesn’t have the same ring to it. The deal sailed through the regulatory approval process in all the countries that had a say in it. The New York Times gives this picture of publishing’s new behemoth: […]

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