Who Are The “Big Six” in…?

I am so sick of the term “The Big Six” that I want to try something here, just for fun.

Feel free if you have some knowledge of publishing to try to answer these questions, because, to be honest, I do NOT know exactly the answers. And I am curious as to what other people think. (And I am tired of everyone just lumping all fiction publishing into “The Big Six” without any real understanding of the corporations, or more likely the conglomerates they are thinking of, let alone their names, let alone what “controlling interest” in a company even means.)

Only corporation names in your answers, please. But if you know it, state the imprint owned by the corporation as well.

For example, St. Martins Corporation has a number of mystery imprints and might be in the running for the top six publishers of mystery.

Tor Books is an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC and Tom Doherty Associates, LLC has a bunch of other imprints as well, including Forge.

(Both St. Martins and Tor are corporations, and both have interests owned by a larger corporation, which has interests that are owned by yet a larger corporation (conglomerate), yet both companies can fight for authors against each other and both companies run as individual corporations under US Corporation law.)


1)  Who are “The Big Six” corporations and/or imprints in science fiction publishing?

2) Who are “The Big Six” corporations and/or imprints in romance fiction publishing?

3) Who are “The Big Six” corporations and/or imprints in mystery fiction publishing?

4) Who are “The Big Six” corporations and/or imprints in literary fiction publishing?

5) Who are “The Big Six” corporations and/or imprints in young adult fiction publishing?

6) Who are “The Big Six” corporations and/or imprints in nonfiction (overall if possible) publishing?

7) Who are “The Big Six” corporations and/or imprints in Christian fiction publishing?

8) Who are “The Big Six” corporations and/or imprints in all FICTION publishing? (I’m not sure this question is possible to answer without some defining of terms to limit the question, but you can try. State your limitations, such as “income” or “gross sales” or “hardbacks” or “mass market.”)

and finally…

9) When people say “The Big Six” in fiction publishing, who do you think they are referring to? Which six corporation or international conglomerate names spring to mind for you?

(Is Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck, a German family-run corporation that owns Holzbrinck LLC, which owns controlling interest in a number of national publishing companies. Was that one of those names that instantly spring to mind when you think of “The Big Six?”)

And where do companies like Daw Books, Baen Books, The Baker Publishing Group, Tyndale House Publishers, Harlequin, Bloomsbury, and so on fit into the mix?

For example, Thomas Nelson is the sixth largest publisher of Christian fiction. Controlling interest in Thomas Nelson is possibly being bought (as of last news I read) by HarperCollins, which is a major publishing corporation that has interests or controlling interests in William Morrow, among other publishers. Of course, controlling shares of HarperCollins are owned by News Corporation, which is Murdock-controlled corporation.

But, of course, unless you understand how major corporations work and how “controlling interest” in a corporation’s stock (sometimes less than 30%) affects a corporation’s business, you really don’t know what any of this means.

For example, take Walker Publishing. A controlling interest in Walker is owned by Bloomsbury Publishing plc., which is a privately owned corporation. But Walker is distributed by McMillian. Not owned, not a controlling interest in, but just distributed.

So, if you can’t answer these nine questions, you are the same as me. I can’t answer them all either, at least not without some major research, which is why I get so sick of people acting like they know what they are talking about when they toss out the term “The Big Six.”

Fiction publishing is not one single and simple place. And publishing overall is far, far larger than fiction publishing.

Stop using the “Big Six” term unless you can answer the above questions off the top of your head.

And, of course, if you can answer the above questions, you won’t use that term any more to talk about all publishers in general.



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55 Responses to Who Are The “Big Six” in…?

  1. My impression was always that people weren’t talking about imprints, but parent companies — the conglomerates which own the imprints.

    Me? I don’t know. Don’t claim to.

    When it comes to the “evil influence” in publishing which cause people to use the term “big six” — I always felt that evil influence came more from B&N’s automated ordering systems and the influence of big box retail than anything in publishing.

    But I don’t know, so I’m looking forward to answers to this post, too.

    • dwsmith says:

      So far no one willing to try my challenge on even one genre. Remember, company names, (imprints are a bonus).

      And Livia, it is that kind of definition I am pushing against, actually. It just turns fiction publishing into what seems like a one simple thing, with six people running everything, and of course, that’s not the way it’s done. These monster companies often don’t even know what their own imprints are doing besides what is said on a balance sheet.

      And Krista, those are your personal big six?? Wow, you write in a lot of genres. And I have no idea what you meant by Harlequin being a good example. Harlequin is a privately owned Canadian company that does almost all kinds of romance and men’s action adventure series, for the most part. And is never considered in the “nickname” that Livia is talking about called “The Big Six.”

      Camille, I agree, those that pretend to know what they are talking about are talking about the French and German and British conglomerates for the most part. But the speakers don’t understand how “holding a controlling” interest in a publicly traded US corporation even works. So they think that because one imprint is owned by a conglomerate six corporation layers under the top, that imprint should be lumped into “the Big Six” and talked about as if all companies in those conglomerates are acting exactly the same. Thankfully, it doesn’t work that way.

  2. I’ve always seen it used as shorthand for the following six publishers.

    “The Big Six is a term commonly used to collectively designate the behemoths of US trade publishing: Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan. Although there are other large players, some of whom occasionally can compete with these companies for seven-figure authors, the lion’s share of the biggest author brands are published by one of these six houses.”


    It’s the 5 publishing houses that use agency pricing with Amazon, plus Random House. It’s never struck me as any deep insightful comment about marketshare or corporations, just a nickname for those six companies.

  3. My “big six” is more like the big group of imprints, so:

    St Martins
    Thomas Nelson


    I sometimes refer to them as the NY6, simply referring to the group of New York-based giants who are connected to each other and other giant corporations (Harlequin is a good example).

    But I find it interesting that many people refer to the “publishing” world and actually are just talking about Penguin or HC. It’s a rather large world out there beyond those two.

  4. joemontana says:



    The Big 6 are not COMPANIES…

    they are the evil cabal of publishing overseers who sit around a table and control…


    Get it right will ya!!


  5. Cora says:

    Verlagsgruppe Holzbrinck does come to mind as one of the so-called “Big Six” for me immediately. But then I am German and for me the publishing corporations are called Holzbrinck and Bertelsmann rather than MacMillan and Random House. And nationally, Holzbrinck is not nearly as influential as Suhrkamp or the Axel Springer AG (which is powerful enough to make and break presidents), even though Holzbrinck qualifies as a Big Six publisher, while Springer does not and Suhrkamp wouldn’t even want to.

    I must confess that I’ve always found who does and does not qualify as one of the “Big Six” a bit confusing. For example, Harlequin/Mills and Boon should definitely count as one of the Big Six IMO as should Pearson. Meanwhile, I sometimes wonder what Simon and Schuster is doing there, since they’re very US centric.

    • dwsmith says:

      Exactly my point, Cora. Those who use the term “Big Six” to describe all traditional publishers just has no clue as to the real size and international flavor of fiction publishing.

  6. BTW: According to Media Matters, the “Big Six” are:

    Penguin Group
    Random House
    Simon & Schuster

    I’m going to throw the question back at Dean. We know that nobody is a complete expert on the huge breadth of the publishing industry. There are too many niches, and too much going on.

    The problem is context. When someone says “The Big Six is losing their battle with Amazon” that’s a mostly accurate statement, because those companies and Amazon are engaged in a tussle over pricing. It’s a Wall Street term, really.

    I think there are two things you may be trying to get across to folks about the Big Six, so maybe you could clarify (and correct me if I’m wrong):

    1.) People talk about The Big Six as though they are as unified editorially as they are in their cartel against Amazon. That is, your questions about who are the major forces in each genre is to remind folks that, in terms of content, even the imprints within each corporation are not unified. And often the truly major player in any particular genre is outside The Big Six.

    2.) When someone says “nearly all major publishers are controlled by just six companies” that is wrong: there are a lot of independent companies out there of various sizes. The majority of publishing is not owned by The Big Six. It’s just that Wall Street doesn’t care about most of them.

    • dwsmith says:

      Camille, nope. I could not care about any publisher fight with Amazon. All will clear in time and most of publishing doesn’t care either.

      As for my question about the major forces in each genre, I just wanted writers who claim they know what “The Big Six” means (and write about it like experts) can tell me who the powerful players in their own genre even are. Most writers I know understand so little about this publishing business, they can’t name even the top six major publishers in their own genre. If they can’t do that, how can they talk about “The Big Six” like they know what they are talking about.

      And yes, no corporation is unified, especially when it has many other corporations down it’s chain of partial ownership. Especially from corporation to corporation. This business is just too huge and my goal is to get people to stop using “The Big Six” nickname for all of fiction publishing, because that nickname is hurting us all.

      As for your second point, you are right, up until you mentioned Wall Street. Wall Street has nothing to do with any of this, actually. Many, many of these corporations are traded on one exchange or another. Even companies owned by other companies. Wall Street could care less about any of them, let alone some stupid label. And just like the “Big Six” stupid label, “Wall Street” is not one thing, one company, one bank, or one trading company. Or even six. But I want to stay focused on publishing here. I really want answers to my questions. Not expecting many, but Camille, I guess your response is to question #9. You didn’t know them, but had to look them up, right? And trust a site like Media Matters. (grin) And you didn’t actually put the corporation names as I asked. (grin)

      So far, no one has tried this little test yet. To be honest, I doubt I could get more than one genre right completely, and there are book sales facts on those rankings in all genres. There are no “facts” about the Big Six.

      I was going to add in a Bonus point or two, but since no one is even trying, let me just ask the question here. What are the three top fiction publishers in China? The two top fiction publishers in Russia? How about the top three in Brazil? Note, the top German publishers were outed already. (grin)

  7. I tried to figure out #8 a while back. This is what I came up with:

    Random House
    Simon & Schuster

    I tunneled out into the larger holding companies. It was an interesting enterprise:


    Not sure if that is what you’re looking for, though.



  8. For 2009, the most recent reliable data I could find (admittedly did not spend THAT much time looking), the “big six” overall for US trade book sales are:

    Random House: 17.5% of revenue
    Pearson: 11.3%
    Hachette: 10%
    HarperCollins: 9.8%
    Simon&Shuster: 9.1%
    Holtzbrinck: 5.4%

    Notably, Thomas Nelson is darned close with 3.2%, and Scholastic and John Wiley are right behind with 2.1 and 2.0% respectively.

    Do I agree with the use of the term? No, because it’s not very descriptive, and is basically useless. I much prefer using “major publishers” myself.

    But if you want an actual trade publishing “Big Six”, that’s what you’re looking for, more or less. As you can see from the numbers, it’s not clear cut, and there’s quite a spectrum involved, from the biggest to smallest on that list.

    • dwsmith says:

      Kevin, Holzbrinck LLC is a German Company owned by another family company. Is that number adding up all the US publishing corporations they own fiction numbers only? And how did this “reliable” data come about?

      Also, which Random House are you referring to? Random House Publishing Group, which is owned by Random House USA. Or are you talking about The Random House Group, which is a different publishing company yet again. I assume you were not meaning Verlagsruppe Random House. Or, of course, if not, did you mean Bertelsmann, which has some sort of controlling shares in all of those corporations, plus numbers and numbers of others.

  9. Dean, you missed what I was saying:

    What I’m saying is that “Big Six” has a very specific meaning in the press and on Wall Street. And when it is used in that sense, it is the correct way of using it.

    You may not be interested in that context, but it is correct to talk about the Big Six in that context — that of Wall Street and mergers and all that crap. You know, outside of publishing.

    I’ll be honest and say that I don’t very often hear people use the term in the way you seem to be talking about. True, I am avoiding venues where I bump into newbies these days so maybe I’m protected from the worst of the ignorance.

    I have never once heard anybody refer to the Big Six in the context of being a major force in any genre. Maybe I’ve heard oblique references to the Big Six not being interested in genre at all (not that they don’t publish it, but that on the corporate level, nobody cares about genre).

    Maybe here’s a better question, Dean:

    Why should we care?

    That’s the thing that I’m not clear on. I mean aside from keeping an eye on things that affect our individual books and careers (mergers, opportunities) most of us are just waiting for the industry to shake out and take its new shape anyway. It’s all going to change.

    Here’s a sort-of answer to one of your questions: as a mystery reader, I am abso-frickin-lutely delighted with Open Road/ Mysterious Press bringing back so many backlisted books. In my personal life, they are the Big One. They charge more than I can afford (and I have no idea how well they are paying their writers and writers’ estates), but they dominate my attention.

    But as a writer? Meh. I’m happy self-publishing.

    • dwsmith says:

      Camille, if you are working toward traditional publishing, you had better damn well know what are the top publishers in your genre. Holy crap. Indie publishing, no need to care, but many of us still work a balanced approach and are in traditional publishing as well as indie.

      And you are saying that information about the business you make your living is doesn’t matter??? Can’t imagine that’s what you mean. Do you know who owns Mysterious Press? If a writer were to do business with them, I would hope that writer would at least know that.

      So you are missing my point completely. I just want someone to answer my simple questions. Nothing more.

      • dwsmith says:

        And Camille, I’m confused. Were you talking about two different companies? Mysterious Press AND Open Road?

        Here is the information from a press release about Mysterious Press joining Grove Press last year.

        “The original Mysterious Press launched in 1975 and was sold to Warner Books in 1989. Penzler recently reacquired the name from Hachette, which bought Warner Books in 2005. Grove Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin said his house has been successfully publishing mysteries for the last few years, most notably with Donna Leon, author of the Commisario Guido Brunetti novels.”

        And Grove/Atlantic Inc. is an independent New York traditional publisher, not part of any larger corporation. And even with Penzler joining them as editor, it’s not anywhere near the top six mystery publishers. However, it is a fantastically respected publisher in lots of areas and often has many books up for major prizes.

        However, I see no reference in Mysterious Press or Grove/Atlantic to Open Road. Are you talking about Open Road Media? Which has partners with Kensington and others? Founded by Jane Friedman? I had not heard that Open Road was working with Mysterious Press.

        By the way, Friedman has a wonderful quote that is my point of this blog:

        “There are 80,000 independent publishing companies in America alone,” Friedman says. “Most people when they think about publishing think about the big six.”

        Exactly and I hate that and hope at least some professional writers can stop this silliness and realize just how big publishing really is. That’s my point.

  10. I said trade publishing, Dean, not fiction. ;)

    The numbers are solid. However, they’re not broken down by genre, of course. ;)

    And if you’ll note, I *agreed* with you that it’s not an especially useful term.

    Today, I think that the press might be better of talking about the “dumb five” with respect the to publishers at risk for being sued within an inch of their lives due to the apparently vapid nature of certain of their executives. Although “vapid five” has a more literate ring to it, perhaps.

    Of course, a large chunk of the press in the US is owned by the same conglomerates that own those publishers, to one degree or another, so we might not see that. ;)

    • dwsmith says:

      Kevin, you are listening to the rumor mill far too long. Nothing much will come out of the “threatened suit” even if it is brought. Fines, more than likely, if that. And it will take years and be a forgotten little silly storm by then. PG on thepassivevoice.com has done some great discussion about all this. But honestly, as I said, I could not care about that fight. And all the people who think Amazon is a great evil or something like that. Could not care. It’s just all bumps in this road to the new distribution world in publishing. All expected and nothing that hasn’t happened in slightly different forms in the past. But, of course, no writer these days studies the history of the business they want to work in.

  11. Scath says:

    Who are “The Big Six” corporations and/or imprints in science fiction publishing?

    I’ll take a partial stab at it.

    Baen Books (Simon & Schuster, CBS).
    Ace Books (The Penguin Group, Pearson PLC).

    I have no idea if I’m warm or not. I have scifi books from those two imprints (among others, natch), so they’re two imprints I’m familiar with and have seen printed on book covers quite a bit.

    I know, weak. Sorry. =\

    • dwsmith says:

      Scath, got two of the possibles, sort of. Baen books is not owned or even controlled by Simon & Schuster. However, they are distributed by them in some cases for some books. But Baen Books is an independent company. Also, Baen is more than likely a ways down any list.

      Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates LLC, is the biggest sf/fantasy publisher. It has been for a number of years. Macmillian has a controlling interest in Doherty Associates stock, and of course, Macmillian is a corporation that Holztbrinck has a controlling interest in.

      You more than likely could make a good argument for a list that would include Orbit, Bantam, Pocket, and maybe Daw. Those are imprint names, of course.

  12. No, Dean, I’m not saying that information about the business doesn’t matter.

    I’m talking about the definition of The Big Six. I think that’s where things are going off the track.

    Most of us see The Big Six (that is, the corporate top end of the cluster of entities which they constitute) as the dinosaurs of the business, and not really relevant, (except maybe in the damage they do).

    The other publishers (and the imprints in those six corporations) ARE relevant, at least for those who are looking for a publisher.

    I know this is frustrating, but let me go off your point — (or at least parallel to what I think your point maybe is):

    But for me, as an indie, I gotta say this: I’m interested in titles and genres and movements. Just like I am as a reader. I may be Kris’ age, but I’ve always been a baby of the “abundance model” that she talked about the other day. It’s about the audience these days, not the publisher.

    When I look for the top six major influences in my genre (i.e. what I read, as opposed to what someone else thinks I want), I’m not looking at publishers, I’m looking at audience and aggregation and platform.

    Currently, as a reader, the top six platforms/influencers in my personal “genre” are (approximately in order) — that is, the entities that influence and reflect and tell me the most about what’s going on in my genre the way publishers used to:

    Short Mystery Fiction Society
    Golden Age Mysteries group
    Google (or Twitter — Keep changing my mind on that one)

    No, they aren’t publishers. Call them conduits, maybe. Fonts of influence. I get there what I used to get from market research.

    These are important is because I’m an indie, and also because nobody is publishing what I like to read these days.

    But it’s not _just_ because I’m an indie. I honestly think that the relative power of various publishers and corporations is a political matter and not nearly as relevant to my business. (NOTE: the publishers themselves matter, but not their relative power.)

    Why don’t I think they’re relevant?

    Because it’s not about that kind of power any more. It’s about partnerships. It’s no longer a top ten sort of world — it’s all broad based and multiple option, but also specific and individual.

    And I _think_ that’s where it gets to your point: That publishing isn’t a mono-culture of a few big operators.

    If someone offers you an opportunity, it doesn’t matter if they are big or small: it’s the opportunity itself that matters. A billion tiny opportunities can be way better than one big one — and usually are.

    And right now, while the world is shifting, opportunities outside the box (i.e. outside the genre, outside of established publishing) may be even more fruitful than those inside.

    Sure, it’s important to know who you are dealing with. And I’m not arguing with the value of knowing who is publishing what you write, or for the audience you write for. Heck yeah.

  13. RE Open Road Media partners with Mysterious Press on the backlist ebooks which interest me. (Westlake, Waumbaugh, Ellery Queen, Stuart Kaminsky….)


    Scroll down and you’ll see a bunch of different partners.

    I do think it’s important for authors to know about all the great little publishers out there. Not arguing that. Just having problem getting my head around your point about the Big Six.

    It might be better to just ask folks who the most important publishers are to them. Since I’m an indie, I have to go by who is important to me as a reader.

  14. Alan Cramer says:

    Looking forward, I hope the big six will be me and my five other pseudonyms.

  15. Wyndes says:

    What great questions. And no, I’m not even going to try. But an interesting side-note (IMO, anyway) is that for my former employer, Pearson, which I believe is in financial terms top of the list, fiction is a reasonably small part of the business.

    The Penguin Group is one division among three and it includes imprints that publish non-fiction, so it wouldn’t be easy to break out the numbers. But a genre of fiction, such as science-fiction, is really just a drop in the bucket to them, and not nearly as important as, say, the college education market or getting textbooks approved in Texas.

    I’d say they have to be pretty strong in YA and children’s, because they’ve got Ladybird, Puffin, Dutton Children’s, Grosset & Dunlap, but after a decade there, I have no idea whether they publish any genre romance at all and it has never once come up at an annual sales meeting. Eh, now I feel as if I ought to try to find out. The question of whether the largest publisher in the world publishes at all in the largest genre is actually kind of an interesting one. But I have work to do so I’m not going to take on the challenge!

  16. Dan DeWitt says:


    I guess I don’t see the issue here. “The Big 6″ isn’t a subjective nickname based on sales/market/share/genre/what have you. It refers to six specific publishing houses (who collectively control most of the market), and those are:

    Hachette Book Group
    Penguin Group
    Random House
    Simon & Schuster

    This is the same as the “Big 3″ automakers. I can accurately refer to the Big 6 of publishing without any clue as to who the biggest publishers in my genre(s) are. And I really have no clue who the biggest publishers in my genre are, because I only care about one: Dan DeWitt Fiction. :-)

    This particular post just doesn’t make any sense to me.


  17. Dan says:

    I don’t claim the knowledge of the corporations or their imprints to take you up on your challenge, Dean, but I would like to say something in defense of the phrase “the big six”.

    Most of the time, I talk about these guys as “traditional publishers”, but not all traditional publishers are created equal. There are a few smaller presses that independent of these corporate behemoths and yet still do old-style print runs rather than POD. I figure these smaller presses still qualify as “traditional publishers”, but yet they are not the giants.

    So, if we want a shorthand term for these giant conglomerates of publishing, what term should we use? “The Big Six” serves as a convenient term, though for all I know, between mergers and Amazon’s entrance into traditional publishing, these six could be on their way down to five or on their way up to seven.

    Do have an alternate term you would suggest for these publishing giants?

  18. xdpaul says:

    Huh. I always thought the Big 6 were Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. ;-)

    I wrote my first publishable work in the early 90s and have been submitting since then, but outside of college football or international hockey (Canada, U.S., Russia, Czech, Finland, Sweden) I’ve never had a reason to know what a Big 6 is.

  19. William Ockham says:

    DWS says:

    Stop using the “Big Six” term unless you can answer the above questions off the top of your head.

    Why? Who died and made you the thought police for the day? The term “Big Six” means something very specific. You have made no comprehensible case for why I shouldn’t use it. Maybe I am just too dumb to read between the lines, but I have no idea what your specific issue with the phrase is. Yes, the publishing world is a complicated place with lots of interlocking corporations, but what does your set of seemingly random questions have to do with your complaints against the term. Here’s some advice. Trying stating clearly what you object to in the phrase itself. Apparently the phrase is used in ways that oversimplify the publishing world. If you want to make that case, you need to point out specific examples of how using the phrase muddies people’s thinking. I am willing to entertain the notion that you are right, but only if you can show me evidence. Of course, maybe you just wanted to rant and don’t expect anyone to take up your cause.

    • dwsmith says:

      William, read C.E.’s post about why not. I agree with it. And you made my point for me very well. The term just flat gives already uniformed people who want to make a living in a business a shorthand misunderstanding of this field. In workshops here I get professional writers coming in that know next to nothing about the size of publishing, and I hear beginning writers tell others they have “run out of markets” and I hear constantly how publishing is going to fail. All that thinking comes from just not bothering to learn the business a writer is going into. And by not learning the very business, writers make mistakes and use shorthand methods that continue the myth.

      So this is just an attack by me on another myth. Just like I attack the myth that all writers must rewrite all the time. And that traditional publishing is the only way. (new myth) Or that traditional publishing produces a better product than indie publishing. (new myth) Or that everyone needs an agent to sell a book. I use this blog to try to get people thinking, writers learning. Nothing more.

      And if you want to make a living, put your entire well-being on the line in an industry, my opinion is that you should understand the industry. And by just calling all publishers “the big six” as if there are no others, that is continuing a shorthand way of saying to writers “Oh, I’m too smart to understand this business I work in. I don’t need to.”

      The Big Six is a myth. That’s all I am trying to point out. As with all other myths in this business, I have no thought that my little blog post will stop anyone from using the term. But maybe by forcing a few into doing some research on companies they want to sell to, it might teach a little bit. That’s all I hope for.

      But would I use the term “the Big Six” in describing anything in publishing? Of course not. Not even as a shorthand as some people here are trying to defend their use. Why? Because the term is just flat wrong that’s why.

  20. Megan says:

    While I do not use the term big 6, here are some of the biggies in Christian fiction:

    Baker Publishing Group
    Barbour Publishing
    Thomas Nelson
    Tyndale House Publishers

    In SDA Christian fiction, there are only two:

    Review and Herald
    Pacific Press

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Megan, great list. Interesting, you forgot a couple imprints who are part of the big corporations. For example, Waterbrook is a major player in Christian Fiction. I wrote a book for them a number of years back. They are an imprint of Random House, which has stock controlled upward by other corporations above it. But I like your list. Thanks, I learned a couple names there I wasn’t familiar with.

  21. Kenneth says:

    I can’t really answer any of the questions. If I really think about it, the Big Six is another word for traditional publishers. That’s obviously wrong, but the distinction and level of wrongness is almost equal to a writer’s experience in that type of publishing industry. As a new world writer and a self publisher, that world is unimportant to me; hence, the term is basically what I said above. I may be alone, but new writers seem to use it in a similar way, where the old school/guard insist on the specifics. I just live in a different world from ‘published’ authors. (Dean: You’re a hybrid publisher as you are embracing, not whining, but still have an open door.)
    Additionally, to set out the above. I wouldn’t join a trad pub. Not from fear, but it’s too much hassle. I’m too busy writing and making ok money at it to bother with contracts, rewrites, etc. I’m a ‘lazy indie’ and fine with that. Shock! Also, what can they do for me? I’m doing fine on my own and most of the formatting, cover, (etc.) stuff I learnt ages ago and I’m getting to the point where I’m as good as them. Next year I’ll be better in e-ink than most big trad pubs (maybe). Why sign? It’s just too much hassle. (Disclosure: I have 450 titles – shorts and novellas – so others milage may vary.)

  22. Kenneth says:

    Oh, just a thought. I would put my name on the line for a 30k advance with a honest contract. If that were to happen, I’d probably talk to PG and see if he’s busy. A not honest contract would be 1,000,000+ American dollars with payment upfront for one book with no chance of the pub getting a cent back no matter what. We indies are a nasty breed, aren’t we!

  23. As far as romance, the heaviest hitter is, as you mentioned, not even a US company. Harlequin is based in Toronto CA and is arguably the top romance publisher in the world – especially when you count Mills & Boon, their UK branch. Not to mention Carina Press, their digital-first line now run by editor Angie James (formerly of Samhain). :)

    Avon (Random House imprint) is huge for romance.

    Forever, ie. Grand Central (owned by Time/Warner) puts out a couple romance lines.

    Kensington is a smaller publisher in NY, but also highly specialized in Romance. They also really pushed the heat limits by being the first print publisher to bring out an erotic romance line.

    I’d certainly put Sourcebooks in the running, too.

    Back in the day, Dorchester (now in the gutter, of course).

    The other large NY conglomerates do publish romance as well, of course, but we’re talking the influences in the genre right now, I think.

    If we want to talk digital romance/erotica imprints, now there’s a whole nother barrel of worms. :)

    Carina (aforementioned), Samhain, Siren/Bookstrand, LooseId — gah, the list is endless, really, with smaller e-book only imprints starting up every day. In fact, Chris Keeslar (formerly of Dorchester) has just climbed aboard one of those smaller start-ups.

    So there’s my thumbnail of romance, off the top of my head. :)

    Also, just because I mention some of those places (and have been published by them) – it’s not an endorsement to run out and sign contracts all over the place. Caveat Emptor and all that. ;)

    • dwsmith says:

      Anthea, good picks. I wrote a lot of books with Kensington over the years, including “The Tenth Kingdom” novel. They are wonderful and privately owned, as you said. Kris is working with the privately-owned Sourcebooks right now with two series and they are also wonderful. Neither are anywhere near one of the major publishing corporations and yet are major players in Romance. My point exactly. Thanks.

  24. Kenneth says:

    Also, in regards to using the term Big Six. The problem is more that there isn’t really another short, easy word. You’ll probably note that I use ‘trad pubs’ all the time. I can’t be bothered typing out traditional publishers on my smartphone – no Internet on the PC. It takes too many taps. We need a better word before we dump the old one. Using company names doesn’t work – too much research effort (80,000+ is a lot, eh). Using Trad Pubs sounds sort of bad. B6 is a vitamin. TP is too vague. Publishers could mean indies as well and would include small presses. Big Six is lazy and convenient.
    By the way, I’m lazy and that’s fine with me – being a skilled writer and publisher are more important. The blog-o-sphere and being correct in my language use there is of 0% importance, except when it’s interesting (or I’m avoiding proofing, such as now).
    Anyway, didn’t JA pull the same approach to monopolies a few days ago? Basically, most people were like, “I got one…” Then JA and Barry argued many were not, or something. None of it mattered. JA could be right, but fact is if the status quo changes, Amazon might hurt me, or not. Still, tomorrow is tomorrow. I can’t see into the future and if, after research, I find all I can say is, “I don’t know” then I don’t worry because it doesn’t matter right now – the next book does. That’s always the next step.

  25. Teri K. says:

    I publish children’s books, and just to help make your point, Dean, Scholastic is one of the biggest children’s publishers, but you don’t see it listed as a Big 6. They published Harry Potter and Hunger Games. If that isn’t big, what is? (Grin)

    The reason any of this matters to me is in children’s publishing there seem to be overlap of imprints with a single editor often publishing books under different imprints. Also, sometimes an assistant will work for editors in two different imprints, So I classify my submissions to editors under major headings (Penguin imprints, Simon and Schuster imprints, Macmillan imprints) and I collect information about how closely the imprints work so I don’t accidentally submit to two editors who share an assistant. I actually did this once which is how I know it can be a problem.

    Which brings me to my question: On a different but related note, Dean, what software do you use to track your submissions to editors? I’ve outgrown a simple spreadsheet partly because of the complication of the relationships between all these imprints.

    • dwsmith says:

      Last time I did submissions was two-plus years ago in a challenge when I sent out 13 different spec novel proposals in 13 weeks. Novel packages, which included three or four chapters, a decent proposal/synopsis, and a cover letter and SASE. I sold two and almost sold a third. And haven’t needed to send out a spec book since. As for how I keep track, remember, I am an old fart. I still use a simple spreadsheet on my computer and a paper list on the back of my office door and a notebook. Three places for back-up. I made notes of the editor’s name it was sent to, when, and if I got a response. Not much else. I do the same with short fiction.

      So I’m not much help there. I didn’t even know there was tracking software. (grin) But makes sense there is.

  26. Dean, it would seem “Big Six” has become the same kind of social shorthand for major publishers as “Wall Street” has become for the world of finance and “Capitol Hill” for politics in the US, or “Fleet Street” for journalism and “Harley Street” for medicine in the UK. I don’t believe it’s meant to claim any particular knowledge of multinational corporate structure; it’s just one of those terms that people pick up on to name a huge generalization.

    It doesn’t bother me particularly, but others’ mileage can and will vary.

  27. C.E. Petit says:

    Oh. My.

    There is no “publishing industry.” There is, instead, the bastard offspring of a three-century-long orgy among thirteen distinct industries that are usually mistakenly characterized as “niches” — which is just as accurate as grouping long-haul trucks, buses, trains, passenger cars, motocycles, earth-moving equipment, and tanks as “the automotive industry” merely because they’ve all got wheels and motors.

    Here’s an example of what I mean, riffing explicitly on Our Gracious Host’s questions (which do not go nearly far enough in pointing out the distinctions among the offspring). Consider, specifically, question 6… which hides over 80% (by unit sales and by revenue) of what is usually mislabelled “publishing”. Restricting myself, for the moment, to US publishing imprints (as noted in the various threads above, deciphering ownership isn’t all that easy; further, different conglomerates exert different degrees of control over their respective imprints and subsidiareis), in alphabetical order in each grouping:

    Primary/Secondary Education: Allyn & Bacon; Cengage; Holt; Houghton Mifflin; McGraw-Hill; Southwestern; five tied for seventh place closely behind sixth
    Postsecondary Education: Cengage; Houghton Mifflin; McGraw-Hill; Norton; Southwestern; big gap down to indeterminate sixth place
    Serious/Academic Nonfiction: Harvard (including Belknap); Houghton Mifflin; Norton; Oxford; Scientific American (and related subimprints); Wiley; small gap down to chaos
    Trade Nonfiction (combined imprints, because here it can be done): Hachette; HarperCollins; Macmillan/Holtzbrinck; Penguin Group; Random House/Bertelsmann; Simon & Schuster

    These aren’t distinct just because they have different customer bases. They are distinct because they have different lifecycles, different products, different logistical bases, different economics, and fundamentally different expectations of what the author’s contribution to the final product that appears on the reader’s “to be read” table should be (and, for that matter, is… which is different). And each of them, measured by revenue in 2010, was at least 70% of the size of the entire market for fiction of all categories.

    And that’s before getting into international issues. For example, once we cross the Pond, we have to pay attention to Springer, et al — even if we’re shortsightedly considering English-language only.

    Ironically, this sheds some light upon the various antitrust lawsuits that are brewing and/or proposed and/or actually even filed concerning distribution of e-books. People are fond of talking about Amazon’s market power, and/or Apple’s market power. On the other hand, antitrust doctrine requires — rightly — an evidence-based, clear consideration of market definition as it relates to specific questioned conduct. For example, right now no nongovernmental organization* or entity has enough market power to engage in effective anticompetitive conduct in three of the four categories of nonfiction I described above without engaging in collusion as part of that anticompetitive conduct. That is, neither Apple nor Amazon controls nearly enough of those markets to be effectively anticompetitive… without engaging in other explicitly unlawful conduct.

    * I’m excluding bad actors like the Texas Board of Education and the California Board of Education here, with their power to “approve” (and, in the case of Texas, actually specify and buy) textbooks… because by law, they’re excluded from antitrust scrutiny.

  28. I don’t believe in “the big six” any more than you do, but I’ll play along. So the big six in SF? In alphabetical order (six companies, over ten SF imprints):

    Bertelsmann AG (Random House: Ballantine, Bantam, Del Rey)
    CBS (Simon & Schuster: Pocket)
    Holtzbrink (Holtzbrink/Macmillan: Tom Doherty Assoc: Tor, Forge)
    Lagardere Group (Hachette Livre: Hachette: Orbit (also Grand Central? formerly Warner))
    News Corp (Harper Collins: Harper Prism (& EOS))
    Pearson PLC (Penguin Group: Ace, DAW, Roc)

    I’ll freely admit that this was not off the top of my head; I researched. There are a number of imprints now owned by the above that used to publish SF but don’t seem to any more (eg, Avon, Berkley, Signet — and in the UK, Penguin used to (for all I know, still does) publish their own paperback line directly. All my John Wyndham books are the orange Penguin editions.

    What I find more interesting is the genealogy of the various imprints and small houses. For example, Tor, Baen and DAW were all started by former Ace editors, with Jim Baen also working for a while at Tor before founding Baen Books. Betsy Mitchell, who just left as Editor in Chief at Del Rey, came up via a couple of other houses from Baen (and before that, Analog).

    • dwsmith says:

      Alastair, yup, I agree, learning how some of these companies came about is great fun. I’m such a nut about this that I went back and did some research on such companies as Simon and Schuster. Reading about the men involved whose names still carry down through the years. Great fun. And I think your picks are pretty much in agreement to mine in science fiction. Which is about the only area I do know off the top of my head. Although I have mystery/thriller down pretty well also. (grin)

      C.E. great post. Thanks!!! And great paragraph about the antitrust lawsuits. If more people would just understand that one paragraph a little better, there would be a ton less silly rumors out there among writers. So thanks!!

      As for “The Big Six” being a shorthand, that’s what I am hoping to put a crack in the myth. It’s not a shorthand. It’s just bad information.

      Using “The Big Six” as a shorthand for publishing is like saying that a twenty mile stretch of Highway 101 near Las Angeles is all there is to Highway 101. It causes everything else to be ignored by the people who buy into that bad information.

      This myth of a uniform “Big Six” came about just recently and was picked up by lazy reporters in mainstream press. My only hope is that a writer who wants to make a living in publishing will learn more and stop using and pushing the myth that there are a “Big Six” in publishing. That’s why I broke it down by genres on my little quiz.

      Are there huge international companies that own parts or controlling interest in a number of publishing houses? Yup. Are there smaller companies that are just as powerful in publishing areas. Yes. And like the Northern California part of Highway 101 or the entire Oregon Coast part of Highway 101, they should not be dismissed by a silly and wrong shorthand for all of publishing that describes nothing more than ten miles near Las Angeles.

      Why did I write this post? Simple. Got tired of hearing the myth of “The Big Six” repeated over and over by people who couldn’t even name the six corporations they were talking about. Just me poking at myths is all.

  29. Ah, but Harlequin now owned by the evil Torstar, so they are now Big 6. Or, more like Global Big 2 :D

  30. joemontana says:

    The challenge of naming the mystical ‘Big Six’ aside (cuz I couldn;t care less tbh!)

    I think Dean’s exercise relates very well to a point he made on another topic about branding.

    No one really gives a shit about the publishers. If someone asks me ‘who wrote Twilight?’ I say ‘Meyer’. If they ask ‘who published Twilight?’ I’d have to google it. No clue. Don’t care.

    Dean’s blog speaks mostly to writers and WE don’t even care who the publisher is unless they are cutting us checks…

    Says something about the industry I think…

    • dwsmith says:

      joemontana, very good point. If indie publishers put out a book that looks like quality, is priced like quality, and is laid out in a decent fashion, no reader will care. Hell, writers making their living in publishing don’t understand most of this, why would readers even think about it? Good point. I hadn’t swung this post around to that point because, as you said, I was talking to writers in this one.

  31. For an added bonus .. pay attention to the lead-in credits on the next movie you watch. Look at how many mini-companies splash their logo during the introduction. All are branded like the mini-imprints of the book publishers and get as much attention from the buyers.

    Since readers profess they want to buy ‘published works’ (but then are swayed by $0.99 independents) what they really want is the editing.

    Putting my MBA and general industrial experience hats on: the publishers need to consolidate their imprints so consumers are less confused. And start including lead Editor(s) that actually worked on the text (showing ownership for ‘mistakes’ and ‘successes’) on the covers along with the authors.

    Of course, these are problems for the publishers since consolidating imprints means job losses as fewer executives are needed to run the place. Editors might want more pay for super-stardom. Imagine the poaching by competing publishers if a mystical Editor X did King’s, Rowling’s, Patterson’s or (put some names here) books came to the consumer spotlight?

    For my part, I’ve already started listing my primary Editor along with the cover design and similar credits in my books.


  32. “Teri K: what software do you use to track your submissions to editors?”

    There is one submission tracking program I looked at some years ago called Sonar by Simon Haynes that was free.


    I tested it then forgot about it, because most of the subs I sent were not answered and then I discovered Indie publishing.

  33. Camille: ” My impression was always that people weren’t talking about imprints, but parent companies — the conglomerates which own the imprints.”


    1. MacMillan, which owns FSG (and its imprints); Tor/Forge and its imprints; Henry Holt & Co; St. Martin’s Press and its imprints; about a dozen educational imprints; about ten children’s imprints; an audio program (MacMillan); etc. And that’s just in the US. If you look on MacMillan’s international site, you get a whole slew of foreign publishing companies/programs that MacMillan owns.

    2. Penguin, which owns Berkley, Viking, Putnam, Dutton, Ace, NAL, Sentinel, Riverhead, Razorbill, Puffin, Jove, Grosset & Dunlap, Gotham, Prentice Hall, Dial, and numerous others—and that’s just in the US. Penguin is a huge worldwide publishing conglomerate.
    a. You asked where DAW fits into the picture. It’s privately owned, NOT owned by Penguin; but it is partnered with Penguin, its offices are in the Penguin offices, and its books are distributed via Penguin.

    3. HarperCollins, which owns William Morrow, Avon, Eos, Broadside, a bunch of Harper imprints, teen and children’s divisions, as well as UK and various publishing companies worldwide.

    4. Random House, which owns the Crown Publishing Group (about 20 imprints), the Knopf Publishing Group (about 8 imprints), Ballantine, Bantam, Delacorte, Dell, Del Rey, Spectra, Villard, etc., etc. as well as a large children’s divisions, audio and digital divisions, and a large international holding of publishing companies overseas.

    5. Hachette, which owns Grand Central Publishing (it’ll always be “Warner” to me) which has about 8 imprints, Little Brown (half a dozen imprints), Orbit, and divisions for inspirational, nonfiction, graphic novels, audio, and digital.

    6. Simon & Schuster, which owns Scribner, Pocket, Touchstone, Atria, etc., etc., as well as audio, children’s, and digital divisions, and has an intertional divisions which owns publishers in other countries.

    Note that a number of these Big Six publishers own publishing companies which have been named in this discussion as if they were separate or independent corporations. Actually, they’re owned by these massive publishing conglomerates and are part of the Big Six. Ownership in the Big Six typically means your house or program is brought fiscally, legally, and -physically- (i.e. shared office space) into the fold, not left to run itself as before with corporation ownership being just a technicality. (I remember an editor telling me that when Avon was acquired by HarperCollins, even the most minor procedures–such as getting more paperclips for one’s desk–changed in accordance with HarperCollins policies.)

    Obviously the Big Six aren’t the only publishing houses out there—there are thousands, in fact. But these are the biggest, they account for an enormous concentration of revenue, they have traditionally controlled much of the industry, and they are still very influential—and still have tens of thousands of writers under contract (including me).

    What has always puzzled me is why Harlequin is never included in that pack as #7. Maybe because it’s a company that originated in the UK, keeps bigger offices in Toronto than in New York, and pays its writers from a Swiss Bank? Nonetheless, Harlequin has a base in NYC, and it has something like 30 imprints and a worldwide publishing program.

    Who is “big” in a particular writer’s particular genre is a completely different matter, will vary from writer to writer, and is highly relative. (Among other things, we often cross a major program in our own genre off our list after having irretrievably bad experiences there.) When the trades write about the “Big Six” they are consistently referring to specific entities—not to whichever six individual programs, imprints, or smaller houses are most important to –my- needs and goals as a career writer. And most (though not all) of the programs which have been mentioned in this discussion belong to a Bix Six publishing conglomerate.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Laura. Clear, far clearer than my silly original post. I’m just trying to fight writers not understanding what they are saying when they say “The Big Six” and thinking all publishing is just those six. Granted, those six (all the companies Laura stated are the US branches of course) are big, and I also agree that Harlequin should be part of “The Big Seven” and then we would have to go for “The Big Eight” and so on. (grin)

      Thanks, Laura, for demonstrating that a professional writer knows who she works with and cares about it. That is my point and you made it very nicely.

  34. Megan says:

    I actually didn’t forget Waterbrook Multnomah. I just have definitively not seen as much from them as they used to put out. When you look at the Christian bookstores that pull together pretty much only the same selection as everybody else (vs. those internet stores that carry EVERYTHING), I’m surprised at how little shelf space this publisher is getting now. But they’re still out there. I just did no research and decided based on admittedly insufficient anecdotal evidence that they probably weren’t in the top 6. Close though.

  35. Well, given the way the media talks about them–and, indeed, the way they talk about themselves!–I’m not surprised to hear that you encounter a lot of people who think the Big Six are all of publishing, or define publishing, or are all that matters in terms of traditional publishing, etc.

    And as I think (?) has been discussed here on previous occasions, they’ve got their advantages and disadvantages. The big advantage, in this or any other market, is resources–deep, DEEP pockets, lots and lots of experience, lots of distribution and reach. The big disadvantage, of course, if the usual disadvantage of massive corporations–it takes time and teamwork to turn (let alone reverse) a leviathon, whereas a much smaller boat can maneuver and change course much more quickly and readily. And some of the anecdotes I hear about the rigidity and stratification of hierarchy at some of the Big Six (HarperCollins immediately comes to mind as a conglomerate about whose subsidiaries I’ve heard this sort of thing a LOT in the past 5 years) suggest that they will be challenged to make adjustments and changes at the pace the -market- is making them.

    But overall, the influence of major mega-corporations remains very strong in virtually all aspects of US business, so I assume it will remain strong in publishing, too. Just not DOMINANT, anymore–which is a good thing, of course. I live in hope (possibly futile) that increased competition will make he big corporate conglomerations function better than they’ve done for the past forever-years, because they’re pretty much going to HAVE to, or they’ll bleed money like a gutted galleon in a hurricane bleeds treasure–until it sinks.

  36. And size is relative. Companies NOT included in the Big Six aren’t -just- respected mid-size presses like Pyr or Sourcebooks, or indepnedent major houses like Baen and Kensington.

    As mentioned above, Harlequin–which has about 30 imprints, anchor offices in 3 countries (US, UK, Canada), and a huge worldwide publishing empire, is also not included. Nor is, for example, Wizxards of the Coast, which has a MASSIVE media tie-in publishing program (Dungeons and Dragons, Magic, Eberron, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Dark Sun).

    These are just a few examples of important, big, or even MASSIVE programs that aren’t part of the Big Six… and that’s just from a genre perspective off the top of my head.

  37. Glynn says:

    I thought Big Six was a rapper from Compton.

    /leaves in shame

  38. Rick says:

    Now that the thread has pretty much run its course, the Big Six were:

    Price Waterhouse,
    Ernst & Young,
    Deloitte Touche,
    Pete Marwick Mitchell (later Pete Marwick, then KPMG),
    Coopers Lybrand (merged with PW in 1998),
    Arthur Anderson (died in the Enron aftermath).

    In twenty-five years of working Wall Street and Corporate America, I never heard anyone mention “Big Six” unless they were swearing about their external audit firms.

    I guess it makes sense that every industry might use the term, but if you start talking to me about “Big Six,” don’t be surprised when I start giving you strange answers (um… stranger than usual). Not only are we not talking the same companies, we won’t even be talking about the same industry.

  39. Julie Glover says:

    I have nothing brilliant to add yet except a big thank you. You covered this well.

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