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Abroad at home

Posted by David Mehegan  August 14, 2007 05:02 PM

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We knew that U.S. book publishing is largely foreign book publishing, and has been for some time. But a chart published in the August 6 Publishers Weekly makes it more starkly clear. The largest American publisher on the list is McGraw-Hill Education, at No. 7, followed by Reader's Digest and Scholastic (publisher of Harry Potter). Many of the famous old American imprints that any of us can name today are brand names of foreign firms.

The top six world companies, in order of 2006 sales, are as follows:

Reed Elsevier (based in the U.K. and the Netherlands) $7.6 billion
Pearson Plc (U.K.) $7.3 billion
Thomson Corp (Canada) $6.6 billion
Bertelsmann AG (Germany) $5.9 billion
Wolters Kluwer (Netherlands) $4.8 billion
Hachette Livre (France) $2.6 billion

Pearson owns Penguin, Viking, Prentice-Hall, and Putnam. Bertelsmann owns Alfred A. Knopf, Dial Press, Random House, Pantheon, Doubleday, Bantam and Dell, and Crown. Hachette owns Little, Brown. Houghton Mifflin, a division of Ireland's Riverdeep, owns Harcourt. Candlewick Press, the Cambridge-based children's publisher, is a part of the U.K.'s Walker Books. The U.S. publisher Walker & Co., to confuse things a bit, is a division of Bloomsbury -- a British company

At No. 11 on the world list is Holzbrinck of Germany (2005 sales $1.6 billion, 2006 not available), which owns St. Martin's Press, Henry Holt, Times Books, Farrar Straus & Giroux, Faber & Faber, Hill & Wang, and North Point Press.

There are still a few U.S.-owned familiar names. HarperCollins (which includes William Morrow) is part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Simon & Schuster (which includes Free Press and Scribner) is owned by CBS. W.W. Norton is an independent U.S. company, owned by its employees. And there are many much smaller U.S.-owned publishers, such as Algonquin and Beacon (a nonprofit, part of the Unitarian Universalist Association).

Does any of this matter? Probably not, but it does suggest that the publishers of the world are eager to serve American readers. We're still a bookish people.

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