Profiling some of the main challengers

Many see the big five as completely dominating the publishing industry, largely due to the sheer number of names and imprints they control and their presence in every sector of the market. But to call them a cartel would do a great injustice to the numerous large and long-established brands operating in more specialist or limited fields, as well as the exciting new entrants of recent years.

Academic publishing

One of the areas of greatest diversity is in academic publishing with a range of medium-sized outfits maintaining strong presences from which they continue to grow and diversify. For those in the UK, one of the best-known names is Oxford University Press. OUP was set up to complement and further the university’s excellence in research and education. It now publishes in more than 40 languages, and across the whole range of ages and audiences. And they are not alone. Alongside them in the learning sector is Scholastic, which specialises in children’s publishing where they seek ‘to light the educational spark that inspires children to learn more’.
Another firm that has grown out of the academic environment is Bloomsbury Publishing. Founded in 1986 in the university quarter of London from which it takes its name, Bloomsbury now has a foothold in a number of countries. Whilst at heart it continues to focus on academic and business development subject matter, it also has a significant presence in both adults’ and children’s fiction, most notably J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
A US-based academic publisher is John Wiley & Sons, the name behind the well known for Dummies series. Its books, journals and encyclopaedias are published both electronically and in traditional formats. It broadened its hold in the sector with the acquisition of Blackwell publishing, another academic specialist, in 2007.

Beyond academia

There are other significant players outside the academic sector, among them Faber and Faber, which was named KPMG Publisher of the year in 2006. Faber is one of the biggest remaining independent publishing houses in the UK and, though its US arm was sold off in 1998, it continues to prosper through expansion into new areas including digital publishing through Faber Digital and stimulating creative writing through the Faber Academy.
Publishing is by no means limited to English-speaking countries. Another leading publisher of children’s materials is Egmont and, through gradual expansion, the Danish media group’s publishing arm has come to specialise in magazines, comics and educational materials in a large number of countries.
Dutch group Elsevier is a similar player noted for its scientific journals including The Lancet, though in the wake of its acquisition of British publisher Mendeley in 2013 it was criticised for embracing the paywall approach to research literature.

New ventures

Most of those discussed so far are established companies, but publishing remains open to exciting new players with the growth of digital media often providing the stimulus. Among the new and innovative smaller publishers that have appeared recently, three stand out as being particularly important in shifting the traditional American market’s tastes. Unlike the big five, they’re not based in New York and choose to specialise in niche markets with very wide potential for growth.
Dallas-based Deep Vellum Publishing is a not-for-profit literary publisher specialising in translations of foreign language material. It attempts to broaden the base of US literature, bringing the voices of different cultures to a US audience. Apart from simply publishing such material, it also seeks to stimulate the act of translation as an art form in its own right. In a similar vein is another translation specialist called Two Lines Press. This time based in San Francisco, it focuses on bringing American readers the best in international literature through, once again, stimulating the art of translation and rewarding both author and translator.
The third of the group is slightly different but again has a wide pool of literature to work with. Based in St Louis, the Dorothy Project is dedicated to promoting works of fiction or about fiction by women. Their motivation is with the endless stylistic possibilities and aesthetic traditions of literature applied to the half of the population that have traditionally found it much more difficult to be published.
Despite some roller coaster years, the industry is looking vibrant and healthy. The big five have a massive part to play in its continued success, and they bring a wealth of talent to the industry in terms of publishing professionals and authors. Equally so, both the smaller independents and the established medium to large publishing houses continue to push boundaries and force the Goliaths to do the same.
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