"The Big Six" and why I hate that phrase

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 Laura Fitzgerald

Buzz words are problematic.  While the phrases are easy to recite, they tend to also propagate misinformation in their simplicity.  Some processes and organizations are just too complex to be boil down to a handful of words or titles that will paint an accurate picture. 

Nothing drives me battier than the terminology "The Big Six", a phrase used often to refer to the six major trade houses in the USA: Random House, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins.  I've always felt that this misnomer leads readers to think of the publishing industry as smaller than it is. 

"The Big Six," it reduces a publisher like Random House to one of only six publishers.  It addresses none of the variety or diversity of Random House as a collected whole.  Here is the Wikipedia entry for Random House, listing all of it's domestic and international imprints: Wiki Divisions and Imprints. I stopped counting at a dozen, but there are many, many more.  Every imprint is different and unique in pursuing their own publishing goals and opinion of excellence.

Another thing that bothers me about the use of  "The Big Six" is how it undervalues the roll small presses play in the publishing field.  Why is it only ever the actions of "The Big Six" that appear to be shaping the industry?  Digital technologies are leveling the playing field through e-publishing and advancements in print production and efficiency.  Every day, small and independent presses are making decisions that will affect their markets, authors, contracts, accounts, and consumers.  These decisions in turn create ripples in the community, slowly fanning out to affect a larger surface area.

Finally, and this observation may only be the result of the blog posts that I have read, I see the phrase "The Big Six" used frequently enough to imply that there is some secret society among publishers.  And it boggles my mind every time.  There are anti-trust laws in this country to prevent collusion between corporate powers against any one industry, retailer, or consumer group.  I'm not naive, people in this industry do talk with one another, but there is no roundtable secret meeting between publishing execs at which they decide how as one, they're going to move and position themselves around one another. This is a highly competitive market, with low margins, and an abundance of goods.  It benefits the large corporations to be closed lipped with one another.

I doubt it bugs very many people, but there it is.  I've said my peace.

/End of Line


Lydia Kang said...

Thanks for this eye-opening post. I never thought about it when I see that phrase, but it's not one I throw around myself.
Great post!

Melissa said...

I never thought of the Big Six this way. Thanks for the eye opener!!

Alleged Author said...

Am I the only one who thinks of sports when I see "The Big Six"? I need to start paying more attention. Seriously. :P

Anonymous said...

You're right. The "big 6" have very diverse imprints. And e-books and smaller presses have definitely changed things.

Post a Comment