The Big Six

8 10 2011

Ever heard of the “Big Six”?

“Big Six” isn’t a publishing company or a pen name; instead, it is a term used to describe a group of major publishers. A lot of times, articles will refer to things like “the big six publishers are all in the black” or “the big six publishers had less floor space at the convention.” The Big Six, basically, is a group of publishers that are the largest. Usually they are the largest in terms of authors, money, or books published.

So what publishers are in the Big Six? (All descriptions from this article: Who Are the Big Six?

Hatchette Book Group

Formerly Warner Books (of Time Warner), Hachette was acquired by Hachette Livre, itself a subsidiary of the French media conglomerate Lagardère Group. The publisher is known for a few of its larger imprints – Little, Brown & Company and Grand Central.


Owned by Ruper Murdoch’s News Corp, HarperCollins is the combination of two other publishing companies (William Collins, Sons and Co Ltd and Harper & Row). Both Harper and Collins were founded in the early 19th century. Today, HarperCollins has around fifty imprints, covering just about every imaginable publishing niche from all over the world.


Founded in 1843 by Daniel and Alexander MacMillan, the company is now currently owned by the German Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. Residing in the New York City’s Flatiron building, the MacMillan imprints run the gamut from commerical fiction (St. Martin’s Press) through speculative fiction (Tor) and strong literary fiction (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).


Owned by the British conglomerate Pearson PLC, Penguin is the second largest trade publisher in the world. Penguin got its start producing high quality paperbacks to be sold through Woolworths and other department stores. Even today, Penguin is still known largely for its classic paperbacks.

Random House

Random House is the largest English-language trade publisher in the world and is a full subsidiary of the German conglomerate Bertelsmann. The Random House American Division is divided into several publishing groups including the Random House Publishing Group, the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, and the Crown Publishing Group. Each group has their own set of unique and specialized imprints.

Simon & Schuster

Owned by the CBS Corporation, Simon & Schuster can trace its publishing history back to the 1920s and the dawn of the crossword puzzle. Today, Simon & Schuster publishes around two thousand titles each year through dozens of imprints including Pocket, Free Press, and Scribner.

Obviously, each of these publishers have plenty of imprints and long and storied histories. They’ve published award-winners, bestellers, classics (both old and cult) and launched long and storied careers in publishing and made authors famous.

But there are differences.

Of course, they all publish different kinds of books — depending on what imprints they have. For instance, Macmillan has Tor, a speculative fiction imprint, while HarperCollins has Avon, a romance imprint. And they all have different authors, editors, publishers, and on and on. They’re different.


Macmillan is less known, for example. There are hundreds of thousands of books they’ve published, and they’ve had plenty of huge authors (Judy Blume, anyone? Yes, she was published by Macmillan first). But now, when I have discussions with people about what publishers they like, I rarely hear it mentioned.

I always hear, though:

Those are three of the largest publishers in the world. But they’re not the largest — Penguin is the second largest trade publisher in the world, and yet people never mention those books. Macmillan, Penguin, and Hatchette (publisher of imprints such as Little, Brown and Grand Central) are rarely mentioned. And I think there’s only one reason why.


HarperCollins totes their books everywhere; as one of the largest publishers in the world, they have plenty of money for ads. Their ads are featured in magazines, online, TV even. Their authors have huge presence online, with popular blogs and such. For instance, the name “Lauren Oliver” and “Veronica Roth” etc, are famous in the YA world. They’re bestellers; they’re featured all over the interwebtz (Roth’s books even have ads on YouTube now) and on and on.

Simon and Schuster, I believe, has a smaller budget, but that doesn’t stop them. They have huge authors, like Becca Fizpatrick and Karen Katz. They’re known for the quality of their books, as well as their authors. Their ads are smaller, but the books seem more critically well recieved and recommended. People like their many imprints and variety, and S & S is more of a reader-driven imprint. They have less commercialization, focusing more on websites like GoodReads. Still, reader commercialization is another kind of commercialization: getting readers to know about the book and then having them recommend the story.

Random House has quite a few ads, and they’re known for bestsellers: Lauren Kate, Laura Hillenbrand, etc. They have more commercial books, too: Dora, Barney, on and on it goes. They seem to have fewer ads, yet their commercialzation reigns with huge authors, and they can spend millions on online advertising when a besteller comes out.

And then there are the smaller companies.

Macmillan, Penguin, and Hatchette.

Penguin is huge, and their books have won awards. But their advertising budget is smaller, and people don’t know about them as much. They’re one of the largest trade groups, but with smaller commercialzation people are unsure about them.

Macmillan was huge in the 1940s and 1950s, that era, but it’s decreased now. They are a smaller company, and have less money to spend on ads. People don’t know about them as much, as they have fewer well-known authors and books. They’re critically well recieved, but the strategy seems to work less for them  than S & S.

Hatchette is almost completely unknown; people know about Little & Brown and Grand Central, but they don’t know much about the major company. Besides Twilight, the company is almost an unknown. It seems only recongizable by its imprints, not the company, which can be dangerous. Many readers think that the company is Little Brown instead.

All of the companies have commercialization in order to survive, but as this shows, even in major publishing companies there is still a divide.

Have a great weekend.




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