A few weeks ago, Random House parent Bertlesmann announced it was purchasing a controlling interest in Pearson’s Penguin Books.
If approved, this will merge the two largest US publishers.
There has been endless discussion about this and the impact on the industry. But this merger is nothing new. For decades, publishers have consolidated and gotten bigger.
Random House is made up of at least 100 different formally independent publishers. The last big leap was when Bertlesmann (who at the time owned Bantam-Double-Dell) bought Random House from billionaire Sy Newhouse. Random House was about 2x the size of BDD at the time. Both were big.
Penguin purchased Putnam a few years ago. I remember the merger and the years of integration well.
Looking at the other corporate publishers.
HarperCollins was Harper & Row. They were bought by Rupert Murdoch and the name changed. They also absorbed Morrow-Avon plus basically every big Christian publishing house in the nation.
Macmillan owns formally independent FSG, St. Martins Press, Holt and a variety of others.
These are just a few examples of the constant consolidation of publishers. It is only going to continue.
I speak with a lot of independent publishers. Many receive queries from the corporate publishers re: being bought. These are not the billion dollar deals but are still very significant. Many independent publishers were founded in the 60s and 70s. They are still owned by the founders. As the industry continues to dramatically evolve, many of these owners will sell. More consolidation.
Expect more and more consolidation. I read a lot that there will be a “Big 3” soon. But that not only considers the corporate publishers. Expect many independent and less than the biggest to merge too.
But…. just to end this on a contradictory note, even though there is this consolidation, it is also a great time to start a publisher. The barriers to entry have never been lower and the reading public never bigger. It just won’t be traditional. It will need to have as big a play for digital as physical. It will happen.