It’s time to get back to the discussion of the dilemma of independent book publishing, following holidays that were more disruptive than I anticipated.
This project began when I discovered that the large changes in the publishing industry over recent decades were not necessarily known even by some who were generally knowledgeable about books.
A caveat before we go on: I’m a guy who likes to make and sell books and knows how to do the various aspects of this. But I’m neither a historian of publishing nor an industry journalist, exactly – I don’t even subscribe to Publishers Weekly anymore. So I can make mistakes. What I would like to establish, however, are the large trends. If I get some particulars wrong, well, as the Chinese literati used to write on their paintings, “Please correct me.”
Last time we saw the storied presses with the country’s longest and most distinguished publishing traditions gobbled up by a handful of giant international corporations. (Thanks to several people who added helpful comments qualifying and fleshing out my account.) Now we have reached the point where a few corporations control most of the country’s book publishing.
In 2003 Publishers Weekly wrote that the five large New York publishers (Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Time-Warner) accounted for 45% of the market’s sales. But these publishers are only parts of the larger entities, which often own many publishing companies. In 1999 Andre Schiffrin wrote that the top 20 publishers accounted for 93% of all sales, and in 2000 he said that 80 percent of book sales are controlled by five corporations: Bertlesman, News Corp, Time-Warner, Disney, and Viacom/CBS.
Today we’ll take a look at these corporations and quickly survey what other sorts of things they own in addition to book publishing companies. In what follows, I use the word “own” for convenience; often control is shared in complicated ways, and “has a major stake in” would be more correct.
- Bertelsmann owns Random House, Knopf, Vintage, Modern Library, Bantam Doubleday Dell, and Delacorte. It is the biggest television broadcaster in Europe and the largest film producer in Asia. It owns several daily newspapers. It owns a number of radio stations. It owns about 80 magazines.
- Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns Harper Collins and Zondervan, the largest Bible imprint, as well as Fox television, the National Geographic Channel, the Golf Channel, the TV Guide preview channel, and more. With Time-Warner it owns the Book-of-the-Month Club. It recently added the Wall Street Journal to its stable of major newspapers around the world. It owns the Fox movie company, and more
- Time-Warner owns Warner Books, Little, Brown, and Time-Life. With News Corp it owns the Book-of-the-Month Club. It owns Warner Brothers. It owns more than 64 magazines, such as Time. It owns AOL, CompuServe, Netscape, and things like WinAmp. It owns HBO, Cinemax, Comedy Central (with Viacom), Court TV, TBS, TNT, CNN, and much more
- Disney owns Hyperion, Miramax, and ESPN Books. It owns Disney Pictures, Touchstone, and more. It owns some 50 radio stations, and the ABC and ESPN radio networks. It owns several magazines such as US Weekly and Discover.
- Viacom owns Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, Scribner, The Free Press (some irony there), and more. It owns Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, MTV Films, and Blockbuster. It owns CBS UPN, MTV, Showtime, Comedy Central (with Time-Warner), the Sundance Channel, etc. It owns about 40 television stations. It owns several magazines. It owns exclusive advertising rights on buses, subways, trains, kiosks, and billboards in 90 U.S. cities, and more around the world.
Those are just some highlights. A full list would be too exhausting to produce, and — like the crew who paint the Bay Bridge by starting over at the other end each time they finish — by the time you had reached the end of the list properties would have been exchanged and new ones brought into the fold.
Next time we will consider some of the implications of the broad reach of these corporations.
Shown: Rupert Murdoch (News Corp.) on the cover of Time magazine (Time-Warner).