Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Part Two: Multinational Corporations Take Over Publishing

Gulf and Western managed companies as diverse as auto parts suppliers, zinc mines, and sugar cane producers. In 1966 it strayed into the entertainment business by acquiring Paramount Pictures, a company dating back to 1913 when Adolph Zukor, owner of a New York nickelodeon and founder of the Famous Players Film Company, invested in a film distribution company by that name. Paramount had produced such notable films as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, GOING MY WAY, SUNSET BOULEVARD, A PLACE IN THE SUN, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, ROMAN HOLIDAY, SHANE, and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. The purchase of Simon and Schuster gave Gulf and Western an opportunity to cash in on Pocket Books’ movie tie-in paperbacks

(Left: The Simon and Schuster Building, N.Y.)

Under the umbrella of Gulf and Western (renamed Paramount Communications in 1989), S and S began expanding through acquisition. Between 1984 and 1994, it purchased more than 60 publishing companies, including the prestigious Macmillan Publishing Company. Subsequently, company revenue grew from $200 million in 1983 to more than $2 billion in 1997.

Shortly after the 1994 Macmillan acquisition, Paramount – along with S and S – was sold to Viacom Inc. Viacom (short for "Video & Audio Communications") was founded in 1971 as a division of CBS. It was purchased in 1986 by movie theater owner National Amusements, but retained its original company name. Simon and Schuster benefited from the sale by launching new imprints based on programming by Viacom’s MTV Networks.

In 2005 Viacom was split into two companies – Viacom and CBS Corporation – with National Amusements retaining control of both entities. Simon and Schuster became the property of CBS Corporation.

As part of the world’s fourth largest media conglomerate behind the Walt Disney Company, Time Warner, and News Corporation, Simon & Schuster continues to publish tie-ins to films by Viacom-owned Paramount. As one of the four largest English-language publishers – Random House, Penguin, and HarperCollins being the others – it has approximately 1350 employees, publishes approximately two thousand titles annually under 35 different imprints, is a leading audio and ebook publisher, and distributes its titles in more than 100 countries and territories around the world.

It is also the ONLY major publisher in the United States that is owned by an American corporation.

(Right: Current S and S logo)

Multi-national corporations headquartered outside the U.S. own the other five major publishers operating here. Those publishers and corporations are:

Random House with its 100+ imprints, owned by Bertlesman (Germany).
HarperCollins with its imprints, owned by Rupert Murdock’s News Corporation (United Kingdom).
Penguin Group with its many imprints (among them Viking, Putnam, Dutton, Berkley. Grosset and Dunlap), owned by Pearson (United Kingdom).
Macmillan with its imprints (Farrar Straus and Giroux; St. Martin’s Press, and more), owned by Holtzbrink (Germany); bought in 1999 after 156 years of ownership by the Macmillan family.
Grand Central (formerly Warner Books) along with Little, Brown (American publisher founded in 1837), owned by Hachette Livre (France).

How does multi-national corporation ownership of publishing companies affect writers? Clearly, as large conglomerates take over the publishing business, smaller companies either die off or are acquired by the big guys, with the result being layoffs of skilled workers and fewer publishing outlets for authors.

Simon and Schuster (CBS Corp.) posted $794 million in revenue in 2009 while employing, according to their website, only 1350 people. Random House (Bertlesman) laid off employees in 2009 and 2010 while posting $1.7 billion in revenue for 2009 and this year agreeing to pay Janet Evanovich $50 million for her next four books. Macmillan (Holtzbrink) lowered ebook royalties to authors while its St. Martin’s Press division is accused of slashing royalties under “high discount” provisions.

The bigger the corporation, the more power its affiliated publishing companies have to influence the placement of books in stores, to negotiate author rights and payments, and to limit big time advertising to a chosen few writers. Likewise, the bigger the corporation, the more it must answer to its stockholders, thus making it almost de rigueur for publishers to abandon moderately selling first-time and midlist authors and concentrate instead on titles by best-selling novelists, ghost-written celebrity tell-alls, and non-fiction self help books.

Publication by a major publisher is the dream of practically every fiction writer. Given the consolidation and elimination of publishing companies over the past twenty-five years, that dream may be harder to fulfill today than ever before. While it still comes true each year for a good number of first-time authors, many writers have abandoned the dream and instead pursue vastly different avenues to publication.

More on that next time.



  1. Hi Mary,
    I only just got caught up with this excellent series. A very sobering look at the growth and consolidation of publishing houses, indeed! As an aspiring author, I'm looking forward to your next post and keeping my fingers crossed. You get so much more support from a multi-national, but it looks like the chances of being accepted at one are getting slimmer and slimmer.

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