five big publishers

Like many industries, book publishing is dominated by a small number of companies known as the Big Five publishing houses. These publishers include Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.

They hold the lion’s share in the book manufacturing and selling industry, and with so many resources at their disposal, they have the ability to make or break a book release. Despite churning out an innumerable number of releases each year, many writers find it difficult to make connections with these Big Five publishing houses, resulting in more and more authors deciding to self-publish instead.

The Big Five Publishing Houses

The Big Five publishers are not dominant in the number of titles released each year but are disproportionately influential in revenue from book sales. Here’s the annual revenue based on the data from Wordsrated:

big five publishers

Therefore, let’s take a closer look at the Big Five publishing houses and their notable imprints in descending order.

Penguin Random House—The Largest of the Bif Five Publishers

Penguin Random House is a publishing house formed by the merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013. It’s one of the world’s largest book publishers, dating back to the 1800s, committed to publishing great books, connecting readers and authors globally, and spreading the love of reading.

They have published many bestsellers and award winners. Penguin has published works by renowned authors such as Sylvia Plath, George Orwell, and Virginia Woolf, as well as contemporary writers like Zadie Smith, Marian Keyes, and Dan Brown. Penguin Random House is home to more than 300 editorially and creatively independent publishing imprints, including Ballantine Books, Bantam, Del Rey, Penguin Classics, etc.

With locations in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Asia, and Africa, Penguin Random House more than earns its spot on our list of the Big Five publishing houses.

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Hachette Livre—The Second-Largest from the Big Five

Hachette Livre is a French publishing company, the second-largest trade and educational publisher in the world, and another name in the list of the Big Five publishing houses. Founded in 1826, the publishing house has over 200 imprints across the globe, including well-known imprints they acquired.

Hachette Book Group (HBG) is the U.S. division of Hachette Livre that has 24 imprints, including Grand Central Publishing, Little, Brown and Company, Mulholland Books, Orbit, and Perseus Books. HBG publishes books in a wide range of genres, such as narrative nonfiction, business, science, history, health and wellness, pop culture, sports, and humor—approximately 15,000 new titles per year on average.

Though Hachette Livre has locations all over the globe, they mainly publish books and audiobooks in French, English, and Spanish.

HarperCollins—The Most Prolific English Language Big Five Publishers

First established in 1817, HarperCollins cemented itself as a major publishing player after a number of mergers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Now, HarperCollins is one of the most prolific English language publishers, perhaps most well-known for its romance genre imprints, Harlequin and Avon Books, as well as its divisions for children and teenagers.

All in all, it’s home to more than 120 branded imprints around the world, including Harper Business, Harper Perennial & Paperbacks, HarperCollins Children’s Books, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and HarperCollins Focus.

This publishing house is renowned for its high-quality, entertaining, and educational books catered to all ages. It has published many notable books, e.g., To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. It also publishes books by contemporary authors such as Neil Gaiman and Veronica Roth.

Macmillan Publishers—The British Big Five Publisher

Macmillan Publishers was founded in 1843 and strengthened in 2015 after a number of mergers. This British publishing company is one of the largest in the world, with imprints that publish books in a wide range of genres and formats. Some of its imprints include Farrar, Straus and Giroux, St. Martin’s Press, Henry Holt and Company, and Tor Publishing Group.

Macmillan is home to many popular authors, such as Nora Roberts, Rebecca Ross, and Henry Winkler. It’s dedicated to publishing today’s best writers and thinkers in all formats via a group of prestigious independent publishers built on centuries of tradition and innovation.

Simon & Schuster—The Publisher that Kept the Big Five List

Last on our list of the Big Five publishers, Simon & Schuster is still an extremely successful publisher founded in 1924. With international locations that serve readers worldwide, they release thousands of books across genres every year. They publish books under a variety of imprints, each with its own focus and aesthetic, such as Atria Books, Scribner, and Gallery Books.

In addition to traditional print books, Simon & Schuster also produces audiobooks and eBooks. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, one of the leading children’s book publishers in the world, is comprised of the following imprints: Aladdin Paperbacks, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Little Simon, Margaret K. McElderry Books, Salaam Reads, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, and Simon Spotlight. Simon & Schuster has published books by Stephen King, Jennifer Weiner, and Hillary Clinton, a former US presidential candidate.

In 2020, Penguin Random House was about to purchase Simon & Schuster. However, the proposed merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster was blocked by a federal judge in November 2022. The judge agreed with the Justice Department that joining two of the world’s biggest publishers could “lessen competition” for “top-selling books.” After the merger was blocked, Simon & Schuster was acquired by KKR, a private equity firm. Yet, the entire acquisition story has raised questions about the future of the book publishing industry and the role that these large companies will play in shaping it.

You can also read about the top five educational publishers on BookScouter.