'Big Six' may become four

Alan Wallace
| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 9:26 p.m.

With two more of the “Big Six” publishing houses now subjects of merger talk, consolidation in the industry appears to be gaining momentum.

Pearson's Penguin and Bertelsmann's Random House announced on Oct. 29 plans to combine by the second half of 2013, subject to regulatory approvals. It's a response to the challenges that publishing is facing amid the digital revolution and the continuing growth of online print and e-book retailer — and, increasingly, publisher — Amazon.

Now it's HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster that are exploring a possible merger — a response to digital challenges, Amazon and the planned Penguin Random House.

News Corp., headed by Rupert Murdoch, owns HarperCollins — and reportedly made a $1.6 billion, last-minute offer for Penguin that obviously went nowhere.

In the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that led to the demise of its News of the World newspaper, News Corp. decided it would split its media properties next year between two companies — one focusing on TV (including Fox News cable operations) and movies, the other on print (including HarperCollins).

The Wall Street Journal, which News Corp. also owns, first reported preliminary talks between HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, which CBS owns.

Publishers Weekly described News Corp. as “flush with cash and in an apparent buying mood ... .” The Journal said News Corp.'s “new publishing company is expected to have a significant amount of cash on its balance sheet, potentially to be used for acquisitions.” And News Corp. “would like to have more leverage in negotiations with booksellers,” according to CBS-owned CNET.

As the Los Angeles Times pointed out, if both mergers go through, the “Big Six” would be reduced to “two mega companies and two much smaller ones, Macmillan and Hachette.”

By combining, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster “would form the second largest trade house after the combined Penguin Random House,” Publishers Weekly said.

For readers, authors, booksellers and publishers, the question is what such consolidation will mean for book choices, opportunities to write, prices and profits. Much, of course, depends on whether the mergers go through — and if they do, how smaller publishing houses' fates will affect such concerns.

The Times reported that the London bookstore Waterstone's “tweeted ‘it's only a matter of time before Macmillan and Hachette merge to form Machete.'”

With the market forces driving consolidation not going away, a sense of humor like the one Waterstone's showed with that tweet may be essential for all who love books — and all who make their living from books — to cope.


It's never too early to begin instilling understanding and appreciation of what makes America great in children old enough to love books — and readers can help by giving young ones on their Christmas lists books that do just that, such as four titles from conservative-publishing stalwart Regnery aimed at kids age 4 or 5 and up.

The Regnery Kids imprint offers “The Night Santa Got Lost: How NORAD Saved Christmas,” written by Michael Keane and illustrated by Michael Garland, and “Land of the Pilgrims' Pride,” written by Callista Gingrich and illustrated by Susan Arciero.

“The Night Santa Got Lost” plays off NORAD's familiar Christmas-Eve Santa Tracker service in “The Night Before Christmas” style. And if kids absorb a bit about the military, teamwork and the holiday's true spirit along with the fun of reading this book, its mission will be accomplished.

“Pilgrim's Pride” continues the story of Ellis the Elephant from the best-selling “Sweet Land of Liberty.” He learns about the original 13 Colonies, life therein and their founders.

Regnery's Little Patriot Press imprint offers two titles written and illustrated by the husband-and-wife team of Cheryl Shaw Barnes and Peter W. Barnes that have mice as their main characters: “Liberty Lee's Tail of Independence,” about how the 13 Colonies won their freedom from Great Britain, and “Woodrow for President: A Tail of Voting, Campaigns, and Elections,” about the electoral process.

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).

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