The traditional definition of commercial publishers is organizations that purchase manuscripts through agents or from authors. This type of business makes all editorial decisions moving forward as it pertains to content and style, funding production and distribution, and ultimately owning the copyright.
Sales proceeds from the books typically go to the publisher who will then pay the author or authors royalties, depending on their contractual agreement.
With that in mind, publishers are far-reaching and can handle manuscripts of many genres from different industries. In turn, publishers sell copies of their books through book stores, schools and colleges, libraries, special-interest groups, online, and through book clubs. They may also own the right to translate texts and publish books overseas. So what are the largest publishing companies currently in operation?
2022 Annual Revenue: $4.751 billion
This British-owned education publishing and assessment services company owned a variety of educational media brands including Addison-Wesley, Peachpit, Prentice-Hall, eCollege, Longman, Scott Foresman, among others. The business is global, although 60% of their sales come from the United States.
However, it has London headquarters and multiple offices across Europe. Pearson has a number of partnerships with higher-education publishers for both college textbooks and assessment testing.
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Penguin Random House
2021 Annual Revenue: $4.09 billion
Formed in 2013, Penguin Random House is less than a decade old. Formed by the merging of Random House, owned by German media company Bertelsmann, and Penguin Group, owned by Pearson plc, Penguin Random House publishes 15,000 titles annually under its 250 divisions.
The company signed a first-look production deal with Universal Pictures in 2014 where Random House would be the producer of films based on Penguin Random House books.
In 2015, the company expanded and rebranded its focus on its education division. Most recently, in November of 2020, Penguin Random House agreed to the purchase of Simon Schuster for $2.175 billion.
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Hachette Book Group
2022 Annual Revenue: $2.748 billion
Hachette is a French publisher that was founded in 1826, initially as a bookshop and publishing company. The organization acquired a number of different companies to expand its global presence and now includes Hachette Australia, Hachette UK, Hachette Book Group USA, among others.
Their acquisitions allowed them to develop in areas like comic books, webcomics, and adult coloring books. The business is involved in three core businesses including publishing, partworks, and distribution.
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2022 Annual Revenue: $2.19 billion
Founded in 1989, HarperCollins Publishers LLC is one of the world’s largest publishing houses and considered one of the “Big Five” publishing companies in the United States. Headquartered in New York City, HarperCollins is a subsidiary of News Corp, an American mass media and publishing company.
The company has a presence in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, and China. HarperCollins is a household name having published notable works such as The Hobbit, The Art of Loving, The Alchemist, Don Quixote, The Giving Tree, Divergent, and more.
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2022 Annual Revenue: $2.08 billion
John Wiley Sons, Inc., more commonly known as Wiley, is an American-owned publishing organization founded in 1807. The business’ main focus is on academic publishing and instructional materials for educational purposes.
Wiley produces books as well as journals and encyclopedias that are available to purchase in print and in digital versions, as well as additional online products and services.
Headquartered in Hoboken, New Jersey, Wiley was initially started as a print shop in Manhattan. The company published many notable literary figures including James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan Poe.
2021 Annual Revenue: $1.86 billion
Springer Nature is an English-German academic publishing company created when Springer Science + Business Media and Holtzbrinck Publishing Grou’s Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan, and Macmillan Education merged together to form one company in 2015.
The business employs over 10,000 employees and has a number of subsidiaries including BioMed Central, Macmillan Education, Nature Research, Scientific American, Springer Healthcare, Springer Gabler, among others.
2022 Annual Revenue: $1.64 billion
This American publishing, education, and media company is a business that publishes and distributes comic books, books, and educational materials. Scholastic is best known for its reading clubs and fairs but also distributes its products through retail and online sales.
Founded in 1920, Scholastic was founded to be a publisher of youth magazines. Today, the business has three segments including children’s book publishing and distribution, education, and international. As of 2019,
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2021 Annual Revenue: $1.54 billion
McGraw-Hill is an American learning math company and considered one of the “big three” educational publishers in the world.
This organization provides educational content that can be customized, software, and services for students from pre-kindergarten through postgraduate education.
In 2013, McGray Hill Education was acquired by Apollo Global Management for $2.4 billion. Alongside their traditional educational materials, McGraw Hill provides digital products and services to over 11 million users.
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2022 Annual Revenue: $1.48 billion
This Japanese publishing company is a privately owned business and the largest Japanese publishing company. This organization produces popular manga magazines for their audience including Nakayoshi, Afternoon Evening, Weekly Shōnen Magazine, and Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine.
The Kodansha company holds ownership in a variety of broadcasting companies and has supported Fuji TV in the past. Beyond manga magazines, Kodansha is also a publisher of literary magazines.
2021 Annual Revenue: $1.4 billion
Macmillan Publishers is a British-based publishing company also considered to be one of the “Big Five” publishers. Founded in 1843 in London, Macmillan is a subsidiary of Holtzbrinck Publishing Group and has been since 1999.
Macmillan is said to have laid a great literary foundation in their early days by publishing notable authors such as Charles Kingsley, Thomas Hughes, Francis Turner Palgrave, and Lewis Carroll, among others.
Most recently, Macmillan and Canada-based online writing community Wattpad announced a partnership where Macmillan would handle sales and distribution of their new division, Wattpad Books.
2022 Annual Revenue: $1.37 billion
Another American business on our list, Cengage is a business that focuses on educational content, technology, and services for higher education, K-12, professional, and library markets. This company is truly global, operating in over 20 countries worldwide.
Headquartered in Boston, Cengage employs approximately 5,000 employees globally. The company has a library reference arm called Gale, which specializes in e-research and educational publishing. The business also develops and maintains databases published online, in print, as e-books, or in microform.
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
2022 Annual Revenue: $1.2 billion
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is a publisher focused on textbooks, instructional technology manuals and materials, assessments, reference works, and fiction and non-fiction books for all ages.
Based in Boston, this organization was formerly known as Houghton Mifflin Company, but changed its name following its acquisition of Harcourt Publishing in 2007.
Most recently, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced their involvement in TV production and planned a 2019 Netflix series reviving the Carmen Sandiego franchise.
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2022 Annual Revenue: $1.2 billion
This American publishing company is a subsidiary of ViacomCBS. First formed in 1924, Simon and Max Schuster wanted to start a company that published crossword puzzles. In 1939, they backed Robert Fair de Graff who founded the first paperback publisher.
In 1942 in a joint venture, Simon Schuster formed Little Golden Books, a popular children’s book publisher. Most recently, Simon Schuster announced that they would be acquired by Penguin Random House for $2.175 billion with the deal expecting to finalize in 2021.
Oxford University Press
2022 Annual Revenue: $97.17 million
Oxford University Press (OUP) is the university press at the University of Oxford. It is the largest university press in the world and the second oldest. The university became involved in print trade in 1480 as a major publisher of bibles, prayer books, and scholarly works.
In the late 19th century, the organization took on the task of creating the Oxford English Dictionary and from that project significantly expanded into other areas.
Governed by a group of 15 academics, Oxford University Press has published an incredible amount of notable titles including the Oxford dictionaries, bibliographies, world classic compilations, history books, English language teaching books, bibles, atlases, and even music books.
They also have a division, Oxford Journals, which is a major publisher of academic journals as well.
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2021 Annual Revenue: $400 million
This Japanese company was first established in 1925 as an entertainment-related publishing division of a Japanese publisher called Shogakukan. In 1926, Shueisha became an independent company.
This organization also publishes manga and kanzenban magazines including Jump magazine line and other magazines popular in Japan. Their model also includes light novel imprints, focused on a variety of different audiences.
Are books a dying industry?
No, books are not a dying industry. In fact, the book industry is far from dying, even with the rise of technology. Book sales have only increased in value by 1.4%, but at best, print sales have seen 8.2% growth, and eBook and audiobook sales have seen over 12% growth.
In 2021, there were around 2.3 million self published books, which is 93% more than years prior.
How many books are sold in the U.S. each year?
Between 700 and 900 million books are sold in the U.S. per year. In 2020, a record was set with 942 million units sold in the U.S., across both eBook and print editions. In 2022, only 788.7 million books were sold.
Is Amazon becoming a monopoly in the publishing world?
Yes, experts believe that Amazon is approaching de facto monopoly status in the publishing world. Amazon controls up to 80% of all book distribution in the US, and many worry that the company has engaged in anti-competitive and even predatory practices that has left publishers “racing to the bottom.”