The World’s 52 Largest Book Publishers, 2016 – Or the Big Five Aren’t as Big as You Think

4699132052_3a7478c435_bIt’s time for a semi-annual reminder that the Big Five US trade publishers aren’t as big as news coverage would lead you to you believe. Instead, the Big Five get press all out of proportion to their size largely as a result of lack of nuance in the coverage and their misdeeds (the antitrust suit over agency pricing, for example).

PW published its annual list on Friday of the world’s largest book publishers. Pearson, ThomsonReuters, Reed Elsevier, and Wolters Kluwer top the list, with Penguin Random House coming in fifth.

With $4 billion in annual revenue, PRH is the largest of the Big Five. It is about as large as combined revenues of Hachette and HarperCollins, which came in 8th and 13th, respectively.

PRH is about five times the size of Simon & Schuster (#29 on the list), the smallest of the Big Five. And PRH is also over three times the size of Georg von Holtzbrinck (#10), the German publishing conglomerate which owns Macmillan.

The next time you hear the Big Five referred to as “Penguin and the following four”, this is why.

And while I have your attention, be sure to keep this list in mind the next time someone predicts the death of publishers. While the Big Five are probably going to be slayed by ebooks and the shift to digital consumption, there’s more to publishing than just the Big Five.

Wolters Kluwer, for example, is a major legal and technical publisher. Reed Elsevier is a diverse publisher in the science, medical, legal, risk, marketing, financial, and business sectors. And ThomsonReuters is a finance and legal publisher.

They don’t face the same market pressures as the Big Five, and the same is true for a lot of the other names on that list.

The media has a tendency to refer to trade publishers like the Big Five as though this is the sum of the book publishing industry  (I am including myself in that statement). As you can see from this list, there’s a far larger industry out there.

image by pretendtious

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Jim28 August, 2016

    Per your earlier rant on Trump, why don’t you keep your political thoughts to yourself? I signed up for your blog for eBook news not some half-assed political commentary.

    1. author/reader28 August, 2016

      Everything is politics, or hadn’t you noticed? If you signed up, you can sign off. It’s a “free” market, right?

      1. BDR30 August, 2016

        You expected something intelligent from someone who is clearly a Trump sympathizer?

    2. Mike Hall28 August, 2016

      Jim: Are you sure you are commenting on the right article?

      Except in the “everything is politics” sense – which actually means that “politics” has no real meaning – there is no discernible political comment to this posting (unless you erroneously think that referring to the big five’s “misdeeds” is a political rather than a factual statement).

      1. Nate Hoffelder28 August, 2016

        A few days back I covered the “scandal” about Trump’s campaign buying his book. I think that is what Jim is referring to.

        1. Roberto28 August, 2016

          Jim might have thought that his own rant about your rant (and every other sane person´s on this planet, btw) would have – quite deservedly – gone by unnoticed if posted under the correct article back in time.

          Besides, there is a correlation between books and bringing up politics. Usually books are read by (at least, vaguely) intelligent people. (At least vaguely) Intelligent people also do realize the effect of politics (and above all, very bad politicians) on our lives. Hence why not taking a perfectly valid example of Mr. Trump´s idiocracy and put it into perspective?

          Jim, Jim… you´ve missed a good chance to remain silent. As did Mr. Trump soooo many times, btw 🙂

      2. author/reader28 August, 2016

        The ubiquity of politics does not mean the word “politics” has no real meaning. Politics is generally defined as social relations to gain authority or power. It’s everywhere and not just cropping up during elections or the fandangos in Congress or state legislatures. It’s in your workplace, inside government, inside your family, and so on.

  2. Mike Hall28 August, 2016

    Organisation like Reed Elsevier may not face the same market pressures as the Big Five but they still have problems in, for example, the scientific journals market where they depend on charging high prices for access to research results which have mostly been paid for by taxpayers.

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