I think we can see more of the “writing on the wall” for the publishing industry. On October 29th, the proposed merger of Random House and Penguin was announced. Within three weeks thereafter, the Wall Street Journal reported merger talks between HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. Thus, the “big six” may soon become the “big four.”
Simon & Schuster is now owned by CBS. The firm publishes titles under something like three dozen imprints – most of which were at one time separate, independent publishing companies in their own right. However, “the big fish ate the little fish,” as the saying goes, and as I remember only too well from my days as a literary agent. [Simon & Schuster bought up Prentice Hall, and effectively killed one of the book titles I had placed at the latter house.]
HarperCollins is now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation Ltd. It, too, has numerous imprints.
The same is true for Random House (which includes Dell, Dial, Doubleday, Knopf, Modern Library, et al..). The German firm, Bertelsmann, now owns the Random House Group – the same Bertelsmann who were once the largest publishers of Nazi propaganda (and, allegedly, even benefited from slave labor under the Third Reich!).
On to Macmillan (which includes Holt, St. Martin’s, and Farrar, Straus & Giroux among others). Another German company, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, now owns Macmillan.
The Hachette Book Group includes Little, Brown & Company and Warner Books, and is owned by the French firm, Hachette Livre, which is itself owned by Lagardère Publishing.
Finally (saving the largest for last), there is the Penguin Group, which includes Putnam and Viking. It is owned by the British conglomerate, Pearson.
But what does this mean for authors? Obviously, it will become increasingly more difficult for outsiders to “break in” or even “get a foot in the door.” There was a time when a manuscript could effectively be shopped around to 20-odd houses in New York and eventually get published. Now, with centralized (computerized) control over increasingly fewer publishing options, things can only get more difficult. Where HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster might once have bid against one another for a title, they will soon be the same company.
Is it any wonder, then, that I continue to believe more openings lie in the world of digital publication than through the good graces of the New York Axis? The Big Five or Big Four -- who may some day be the Big One or Two! -- will continue to serve the privileged few (celebrities, insiders, jocks, politicians, syndicated media personalities, etc.), but for most of us, the future lies in iPad, Kindle, Nook, and other such technologies.