Independent & Non-Profit Publishing: The “Big Five” Doesn’t Have All of the Fun

Despite the emphasis placed on the “Big Five” in previous posts, New York City is home to countless independent publishing houses, bookstores, and self-published authors. Although the large publishing houses may dominate the publishing industry, that doesn’t stop smaller houses and university presses from contributing.

While larger publishing houses work using for-profit models, many independent publishers do not – whether it be by choice or simply lack of income. Even outside of NYC, independent publishers are often struggling financially and forced into taking the non-profit route. The largest distinction between for-profit and even smaller for-profit, or non-profit publishing groups (aside from the profit distinction) is largely  in marketing and publicity strategies. While larger for-profit houses tend to have at least one commercialized best-selling author, smaller houses generally lack the marketing and publicity teams that accompany such an author. Despite this difference, however, all publishing houses have the same goal: to find and publish novels with literary merit.

Interestingly enough, independent houses and authors have their own association, online publication,  and award competition – all of which intend to “bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent, university, and self-published titles published.” Although the award ceremony has specific guidelines to qualify for an award, many sources consider anyone who publishes outside of the “Big Five” as an independent. Although such a definition includes those who opt to self-publish as an independent, revisiting the map of NYC publishers I first posted about shows that the city isn’t lacking in independent houses, bookstores, or publisher/bookstore combinations (i.e. Verso Books, The Feminist PressSeven Stories Press, and Melville House to name just a few).

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Hachette Book Group

Hachette Book Group, one of the New York’s “Big Five” publishing houses, is headquartered only a couple blocks away from Rockefeller Center. As a part of the Big Five, Hachette is often grouped into generalizations about the industry and publishing houses more generally. Despite this, Hachette is actually one of the smaller publishing houses, even though its parent company, Hachette Livre, is third largest in the world. Despite this, Hachette still publishes around 800 books a year, with about 120 of those titles hitting the New York Times Best Seller’s list annually – a statistic provided by Brian McLendon, an associate publisher and vice president of his division, Grand Central Publishing and Twelve.

Despite being one of the smaller Big Five houses, Hachette is still a competitive player, publishing four of the top ten best-sellers of the last decade – including but not limited to, Nicholas Sparks, Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, and James Patterson. The company also has a global reach, thanks to parent company, Hachette Livre, and its associated companies. Even with such big names, however, Hachette Book Group still has to accommodate the demand for e-books, something McLendon states is becoming more and more manageable. According to Hachette’s models, e-books account for about 20-25% of the industry, a number that has shrunk in recent years, and is anticipated to remain relatively steady for the future. A statistic that suggests that the modern publishing industry is not doomed in the way that many people think it is.

E-books and Publishing Houses: Friends or Foes?

It doesn’t take a lot of Internet exploration to  discover that people largely have mixed feelings about e-books: some people love them, while others aren’t too fond. Although many debates about e-books focus on the benefits and drawbacks of e-books versus traditional paper books, there is a bigger picture to be looked at: how is it affecting the publishing industry as a whole?

At first glance, one may think that a push towards digital publishing would hurt major publishing houses, it appears that the opposite rings true. Rather, e-books are saving the industry. It’s been reported that book sales have actually risen quite steadily since 2008 (just after Amazon’s release of their e-reader, the kindle, in 2007) despite the struggles that physical book sellers like Borders and Barnes and Nobles have faced.

Although it is true that publishing houses have of lot of adaptation and adjusting to do in the coming years, digital publishing and e-books are still so new that everyone involved is learning: from digital publishing conferences, graduate programs, and even grammar and spelling disputes on the usage of ‘ebooks’ versus ‘e-books’ – so everyone seems to have a lot to learn. With that being said, I’m not so sure that publishing houses have too much to fear just yet. The playing field appears pretty level – even with the rise of digital publishing start-ups and an increase in self-published digital content.