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Don't Worry About the Big-Five Publishers


Today, the WSJ carried an article about the recent court decision blocking the antitrust complaint filed by the Justice Department to block Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of its close rival Simon & Schuster. As a writer, I have followed this case with interest.

In a trial that involved the testimony of Stephen King, federal prosecutors argued that further consolidation of the book industry would reduce competition, depress author payments and bring about a bleakly monocultural book market.

My Comment:

The big-five publishers already enforce a “bleakly monocultural book market,” largely making merging into “the big four” or even “the big one,” irrelevant. Fortunately, since the eBook and print-on-demand revolution, the Big Five have serious competition from smaller, independent publishers, and self-publishing authors who take their wares directly to their audience via Amazon Kindle and others.

According to a Bowker report, there were approximately 1.68 million self-published print books in the United States in 2020. In comparison, Publishers Weekly says there were approximately 300,000 traditionally published print books released in the United States in 2020, not including books published by small presses and “Vanity Press,” or other, smaller independent publishers. The number lumps together the Big five and the larger independents, such as Melville House or Graywolf Press, as it is difficult to determine how many books each of these publishers release, as the information is not readily available and the publishers do not disclose this information.

In short, books published outside the Big Five number far more than books published by the Big Five. If your name is Stephen King, you will do well with the big traditional publishers. However, the independent publishing sector is diverse and dynamic, and we smaller, less well-known authors and those with an alternative voice can, and will, seek alternatives.

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