For decades, Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan comprised the “Big Five” Publishing Houses, but Penguin Random House’s recent acquisition of Simon and Schuster brings the already small number down even more. The acquisition was met with waves of opposition, especially from authors - even those who were published by different firms. As author Matt Stoller notes, the economy functions on competition. For authors to receive the best deals for their books and afford to write for a living, they rely on editors at publishing firms to “bid against each other” for the rights to their books (qtd. in Schaub).
If this was not threatening enough, The Atlantic author Franklin Foer argues that the combination of Simon and Schuster and Penguin Random House could “publish a third of all books in the U.S.,” which could demolish the chances of a smaller author to get published by a larger firm (Foer). He also mentions the financial losses that authors may suffer, since the company will not have to pay as high advances (Foer). However, Amazon is his primary concern. Though seemingly disconnected at first, Foer argues that Amazon sells about 50 percent of books in America, so though the merger would increase the amount of books that are sold by one company, Amazon could be the larger threat. Since Amazon has annihilated Barnes and Noble and other brick and mortar bookstores, Foer fears that Amazon will do the same to publishing houses and independent authors.
As well as this, independent bookshops are threatened by the merger (Harris). According to the “NPS’s BookScan…[paper copies of books sold] rises to about 34 percent,” which is over a third of the industry (Harris). Combined with Amazon’s figure, about 84 percent of books are sold through these two avenues. Though the book may not state the parent company of the publisher or seller, it will be incredibly rare that it will not have had contact with one of those two companies. Even then, Penguin Random House also operates under a parent company - Bertelsmann - and though they have aided “independent booksellers during the pandemic,” they still threaten to run other publishers out of the business (Harris). Penguin Random House itself is a merger (Harris).
On top of this, Hachette Book Group has bought a large independent publisher called Workman Publishing, eliminating another indie route. The trend seems to be that the Big Five are intent on acquiring independent publishers, which narrows down the options for new authors to get their work out to the public eye (Harris and Alter). The industry becomes more competitive for authors who fuel it while the Big Five (now Four) get to choose how much they pay their authors and capitalize off of the lack of diverse offers. Soon, we may see the Big Four become the Big Three and so on, and coupled with their acquisitions of smaller publishers, writing may become less accessible.
Foer, F. (2020, November 25). The monster publishing merger is about amazon. The Atlantic. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/11/penguin-random-house-simon-schuster-monster-about-amazon/617209/.
Harris, E. A. (2021, February 25). What happens when a publisher becomes a megapublisher? The New York Times. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/25/books/penguin-random-house-simon-schuster-publishing.html.
Harris, E. A., & Alter, A. (2021, August 16). Hachette to Buy Workman for $240 million as Publishing Continues Consolidation. The New York Times. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/16/books/hachette-workman-publishing.html.
Schaub, M. (2020, November 25). The big five become the big four. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/news-and-features/articles/the-big-five-become-the-big-four/.