Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who are the Big 6 publishers?

To continue my commentary about the indie press vs the Big Guys, I thought it might be helpful to know exactly who the Big Six publishing houses are. This is something you need to know if you have written a book and want to see it in bookstores, as almost all of the books in a brick and mortar bookstore are published by one of the Big 6 publishing houses. No doubt you’ll recognize the names of all of them:

Simon & Schuster
Harper Collins
Random House

It may say something else on the spine and copyright page of the book. That’s because books are published under an imprint, the trade name under which the book is published. Sometimes an imprint is a business entity that comes under umbrella of the parent company. For example, many smaller publishing companies live on in name, despite having been absorbed into a larger company. But an imprint may just be a name that the parent company uses. A random check of books on my shelf that came from Borders (may they rest in peace) or Barnes and Noble turns up the following imprints:

St. Martin’s - owned by Macmillan
Signet - parent company Penguin
Berkeley - Penguin
Ace - Penguin, via Berkeley
Dell - Random House

I found one exception among my books: the surprise best-seller, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is published by Quirk books. The aptly named Quirk is an imprint of Harlequin, which is owned by Torstar, a Canadian company that publishes newspapers, including the Toronto Star. They’re not exactly a boutique publisher. In case you’re interested, a quick search of Wikipedia will get you a list of the Big 6 publishers’ imprints.

Independent and specialty bookstores are typically more flexible than the big bookstores (bookstore?) about carrying works by indie publishers. I define “independent publisher” here as any publishing company that’s not one of the Big 6 or their imprints. Some of them are niche-market publishers that may or may not actively solicit submissions. You’ll sometimes hear the term “boutique publisher” or “boutique press”, which I think has a nice ring to it. If you decide to self-publish, by default you become a publisher.

The defenders of the status quo like to deride independent publishers, calling them “vanity press”. To me this sounds a little bit like whistling in the dark. Unfortunately, I can understand where this comes from. I’ve seen independently published books that are simply dreadful. This is not always the case, though, and I’ll discuss this in more depth in a future post.

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