When writing about publishing news, I frequently mention the Big Six American publishers. Why? Basically because they control something like 90% of publishing in this country and a large portion, through their international branches and affiliates, of the world's publishing, as well.
In other words, they tend to get the final say in what happens in the industry. When the Big Six band together (which happens frequently), there is little impact or change they can't force into existence by simply refusing to sell their books to booksellers, to stop using certain distributors, or other business deals.
While this has been changing, thanks to the rise of the e-book and other technologies, like Amazon, Apple's introduction as a bookseller, and more and more self-publishing and independent publishers, it is still a fact that if you want to talk about power in the publishing industry, as well as simple recognition factor for the masses and the (mostly deserved) respect, you're going to talk about the Big Six. So it's a good idea to know who they are.
Each of the Big Six have offices in New York City, making NYC the center of American publishing.
- Hachette Book Group: Hachette is probably the least known of the Big Six under its current name, but the company was once Warner Books, a division of Time Warner. It was bought in 2006 by Hachette Livre, part of a French mega-media company called Lagardere. Hachette Livre is the second largest publishing group in the world. Hachette is most well-known in America for its two major imprints: Grand Central Publishing, an imprint dedicated to crafting a small number of great books, and Little Brown and Company, known for its wide-range of popular books.
- HarperCollins: HarperCollins is a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corps, the same company that owns the Fox TV stations and the Wall Street Journal. HarperCollins does not have the well-known imprints the other publishers do, but still manages to publish in every conceivable genre, including having large teen and children divisions. HarperCollins was created by the merger of two large publishing houses.
- MacMillan: MacMillan is currently owned by the German Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, and is made up of several smaller publishing groups and imprints, some more famous than MacMillan itself, all housed in NYC's famous Flatiron Building. MacMillan's imprints include Bedford/St. Martin's, Henry Holt, Tor, Bedford Freeman & Worth, Palgrave MacMillan, Thomas Dunne, Picador, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Several of the larger imprints were once independent publishing houses.
- Penguin Group: Penguin is part of a much larger publishing company, the British conglomerate Pearson. Pearson is most widely known in the US for Pearson Education, its line of textbooks. Penguin got started in paperbacks and helped to popularize them. It is currently the second largest trade publisher in the world. It too publishes every type of book imaginable.
- Random House: Random House is the largest English-language publisher in the world and the largest of the Big Six. It is a division of Bertelsmann, a German media conglomerate. It too is divided into imprints, including the most well-known Crown, Watson-Guptill, Bantam, Delacorte, Spiegal & Grau, Del Rey, The Modern Library, and Knopf Doubleday. Most of the larger imprints were smaller presses that were bought by Random House.
- Simon & Schuster: Simon & Schuster is a division of the CBS Corporation. At one point, it was owned by Marshall Field and was also once part of Viacom before its split with CBS. Its history began with crossword puzzles but has developed into multi-imprint company. The imprints currently include Pocket Books, Atria, Free Press, Touchstone, and Scribner.
So, if you didn't notice, each of the Big Six is actually part of a much larger corporate structure. In other words, they'll all very much Big Business. Keep that in mind if you ever have the chance to deal with any of them.