You'll often hear authors use the phrase "major publisher." I do it all the time. But exactly who are the majors?
Everyone has an opinion as to what constitutes a major publisher. Some writers look nose-down at publishing conglomerates and coo over big independents. Others will nitpick numbers and cite entities such as textbook and comic book publishers as the hidden giants out there.
I'm practical; I define major publisher by who does the most business and can potentially pay me the most money for what I write. While statistics may vary and rankings occasionally fluctuate, the bulk of the fiction books in the U.S. market are published by one of the following corporations:
1. Bertelsmann: owns the world's largest general-interest book publisher, Random House. Some of its popular imprints are Anchor, Bantam, Crown, Doubleday, Knopf and Vintage.
2. CBS Corporation: acquired Viacom in December 2005 and with it Simon and Schuster. Some of S&S's U.S. imprints are MTV Books, Pocket, Scribner, Star Trek and Wall Street Journal Books.
3. Holtzbrinck: or, more properly, Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, a corporation based in Stuttgart, Germany, which owns a group of publishing companies in the U.S. Imprints include Farrar, Henry Holt & Co., Macmillian, Picador, Tor, Bedford/St. Martin's, Straus & Giroux, and Worth.
4. Lagadere: a few months ago rocked publishing when it purchased
Time Warner Book Group, the fifth largest publisher in the U.S., for $537 million dollars. TWBG, now sporting the new banner Hachette Book Group US, has U.S. imprints such as Aspect, Mysterious Press, and Warner Forever.
5. Pearson: owns The Penguin Group and many international publishing branches. Some of its U.S. imprints are Dutton, New American Library (NAL), Penguin Putnam, Plume, Signet, and Viking (these guys are my primary publisher.)
6. News Corporation, aka Murdoch's News Corp: its book division HarperCollins Publishers, has been over the past couple of years acquiring several U.S. imprints, notably Amistad Press, Avon Books, Fourth Estate, and William Morrow & Company.
There are other major publishers, such as the world's largest publisher/distributor of children's books, Scholastic, which also publishes J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter books, and Harlequin Mills & Boon Ltd., the largest publisher of romantic fiction in the world. I'm sure there are others outside the fiction field, too. But when you hear an author talk about major fiction publishers, they're generally referring to one of the six corporations I've listed.