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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Big Six or Big Five, Does it Really Matter? – by KevaD

The “Big Six” publishers are now officially the “Big Five.” 

Does it matter? Not in my opinion. At least, not by the way readers shop. 

Times have changed, which is exactly why the Big Five are changing.
Once upon a time it was commonplace to find at the end of a shopping aisle a revolving metal tree filled with a specific publisher’s books. Often, paperbacks were lined in wooden bins by the publisher and genre. Those days are gone. In the brick and mortar stores, books are housed by genre/category for the buyers’ convenience. Who the publisher is has become mostly irrelevant to shoppers. We only have to examine book covers to confirm that belief. Publisher logos have been reduced to the size of footnotes, a postage stamp advertising the delivery method if you will. 

The method of shopping has changed dramatically because of the Internet. Book covers are digital thumbnails potential buyers browse past in their search for a good story. Even Harlequin, a once testament to visual branding, is redesigning their covers to try and adjust to the split second of attention they have from potential Internet buyers. Bookstores rarely, these days, have the space to isolate a publisher’s books and now mix them on the shelves with other publishers by genre, not the brand name. Alphabetical listings are by the authors’ names, not the publisher. 

Yes, there are and will always be some readers who connect with a specific brand such as Harlequin. But the bulk of readership, inundated by the steady supply of books hitting the digital bookshelves from unknown and untested publishers, not to mention the self-publishing gold rush, has relegated the publisher’s importance to a ‘second thought’ status. That said, there is an area of reader importance publishers still hold a fingernail grasp over – genres not yet considered mainstream. 

Readers looking for books such as same sex stories, erotica, or extreme mental/visual images such
as gore, still tend to migrate to publishers focused on providing high levels of editing and a ready stable of skilled authors in a specific genre. However, as the smaller indie publishers vie for a foothold, these indie publishers aren’t the least bit shy about expanding their interests to swaying genre readers to their own book lists. Few “romance” publishers now limit their inventory to strictly vanilla heterosexual tales. They want those erotica and same sex readers, those book buyers, to give their authors a try, too. 

Young Adult (YA) and MM (men with men) books are two of the hottest rising genres. Simply put, there’s money to be made. Wiley publishers are quickly adjusting their strategies to accommodate those readers and expanding their once rigid publication interests. Many MM publishers now have a YA division. The reverse is also true. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. Publishing is a business – a constantly shifting business still whirling in a funnel of confusion brought on by the Internet and its endless opportunities for entrepreneurs. To survive, publishers have to sell books, and that means finding readers willing to invest in their product. And, due to the waterfall of books gushing into the daily pipeline of availability, publishers have to spread their literary nets to gather in all the potential customers they can. The same holds true for authors. Few limit themselves to one publisher and aren’t afraid of self-publishing should a publisher quaver on a project. Authors understand they need to keep their own supply of books flowing to readers or risk becoming yesterday’s news. As I said, publishing is a business, and authors depend on the sales of their books to pay the bills. 

And there it is in a nutshell. The methods of selling books have changed. Authors have no choice but to compete by keeping their names and books in front of readers. The publishers who understand this have kicked their production lines into high gear in order to compete against indie publishers and the self-publishing industry. One person, one self-published author, can make a difference; a financial difference publishers must offer high paying contracts to in order to corral that author’s fans. 

There will, hopefully, always be those large, big-named, pie in the sky publishers authors dream about. However, readers just aren’t that worried about who published the book they love anymore. My generation, the one raised with bestselling books lined up below racks of camera film at the end of grocery store checkout lanes, is fading. New generations of readers are finding their own way to shop utilizing the palm-held technology they are being raised with. Where I thought my first AM portable radio was a public symbol of my growth into puberty, there are now some teens who don’t know what AM radios were. It is quite possible a generation that will never hold a print book in their hands beyond curiosity at how their ancestors used to read may be a mere decade or two away from being born. 

How can publishers adjust? Some already have. Kensington Books, a publisher I believe has yet to receive the industry respect it deserves, has opened an e-publishing division. Even Trident Media Group, a renowned literary agency representing authors, has opened an e-publishing division with hundreds of books available to consumers. 

Many authors, my daydreamer self included, will continue to hold a contract with a Big Five publisher to be the holy grail of writing. For those who achieve that perceived pinnacle of success, their author friends will congratulate them with toasts of digital champagne. But the reality is, while we authors continue to gravitate to publishers who can provide professional editing, marketing and help generate sales, readers will simply ask, “When’s your next book coming out?”. 

Welcome to the future.

By the way…. HC Brown and I recently signed a contract with Steam EReads, a romance publisher located in Australia, to publish our co-written erotic romance trilogy DEAR K. We’re really excited about this partnering and hope readers will be too. Look for DEAR K this August.


  1. Great article and so true about the changing face of publishing!