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The Big Six

Book heap

A Variety of Old Books by a Variety of Publishers

Most readers believe there are a variety of well established and independent book publishers in the United States. Certainly,  it would increase artistic and intellectual diversity if there were a lot of different publishers. Actually, there are only six.  While it’s true there are many very small publishing companies,  six big ones dominate the US and in the publishing industry they are known as The Big Six.

Readers often think that the “imprint” under which a book is published is the name of a thriving, independent publisher.  Alas, the imprint is usually the name of a vanished publishing house — a publishing house that was bought  up by an international corporation — and the name of the global corporation, which owns many such imprints,  may or may not appear anywhere in the book.

The names of The Big Six may be familiar to you as distinguished old publishing houses. They are Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Macmillan, The Penguin Group, and Hachette. Only two of The Big Six are US companies: Simon and Schuster, and HarperCollins. The others are foreign: two are German, one is British and the other is French.

Simon and Schuster, for example, was established in 1924 in New York City by a man named Richard Simon and another named “Max” Schuster and it was one of many such unique, stand-alone publishing houses. Now the name is owned by CBS Corporation which under the Simon and Schuster name publishes over two thousand different books a year. Those books come out under 35 different “imprints.” Those imprints are what most people believe are the names of separate and independent publishing companies — which they may have been long ago.

HarperCollins looks, from its name, as if it were simply two well-known publishing houses side by side, a nice Anglo-American merger. Harper was founded in New York City way back in 1817 by the brothers James and John Harper. They prospered and in 1962, the company then known as Harper & Brothers merged with Row, Peterson & Company, and became Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. After Harper & Row went on a buying spree and acquired the publishing houses of Crowell, and Lippincott and Zondervan and Scott, Foresman, the Harper company was itself bought by Rupert Murdoch’s gigantic conglomerate, News Corporation Limited. Eventually, the company acquired the old British publishing house William Collins & Sons which was founded in 1819 by William Collins. The distinguished old name Harper was typographically joined to the equally distinguished old name Collins to make HarperCollins, a huge subsidiary of News Corp, the largest media company in the world. (more…)