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Pearson stays on top as world's largest book publisher

Pearson has retained its position as the world's largest book publisher, according to a ranking of the largest international publishers, holding off a strong challenge from Reed Elsevier, which saw a 10% jump in sales despite the global recession. Pearson's own sales rose 4.9%, leaving it as top dog with book sales of €5.3bn.

Despite the tough economic climate, and the threat posted by digitisation, the ranking has changed little since last year: seven out of the top 10 publishers have held their positions. Two, Spanish trade group Planeta and US educational publisher McGraw-Hill, swapped places, while German media group, and Macmillan's parent, Holtzbrinck, has climbed into tenth spot.

The ranking shows that 27 groups out of the 46 that declared sales figures in 2009 and 2008 registered growth. Within the top 10 only Bertelsmann and McGraw-Hill saw sales decline year on year.

In total the combined revenue of the top 50 businesses that declared their sales was €46.4bn, compared with €45.8bn, representing growth of just 1.3%. Adding in estimated sales figures for the groups that have not divulged their numbers, the global top 50 would have generated sales of €50bn in 2009.

Asian shift

In the top 50, 10 publishers reported double-digit growth, the majority of them Asian-based companies—Cengage, Shueisha, Kodansha, Gakken, Cornelsen, Kadokawa, Kyowon, Bungei, and Shinchosha—with the Japanese numbers clearly helped by the fall in the value of the yen, when compared with the euro over the year.

The contrast with those businesses which saw sales decline could not be greater. The largest drops were registered by Scholastic (-14%), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (-20%), HarperCollins (-16%), Egmont (-9%), RCS Libri (-16%) and Finnish publisher Sanoma (-11.5%).

In terms of ranking, the biggest fallers are Scholastic, which drops out of the top 10 to 13th position, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which continues its descent having dropped out of the top 10 a year earlier.

According to Ruediger Wischenbart, who compiles the data for French trade magazine Livres Hebdo, despite the lack of movement at the top, the ranking represents a close-up of the industry in a state of flux. The groups coalescing at the top are those that have best adapted- from a trade crafted along national lines to one that operates on the global stage.

Wischenbart stated: "With German Bertelsmann's acquisition of Random House in 1998, and French Hachette's ventures into the UK and the USA more recently, and with particularly Asian markets becoming part of the book game (with a tremendous rise in the popularity of manga in Europe and the US, and with China buying huge amounts of translation rights), publishing [has] became really international at last."

And despite the global recession, according to Wischenbart tentacles will continue to spread internationally: "We see a number of regional publishers embracing significant opportunities for international expansion, with Planeta going into France, after Latin America, Bonnier developing its German and other Scandinavian ambitions, and Egmont using its understanding of young readers to craft a Kids' Media Group with clearly international perspectives."

In terms of global make-up, the list remains broadly similar to last year, with one German publisher (Langenscheidt) dropping out of the ranking altogether, and one group—Albin Michel—coming in, leaving 31 European-based groups. Germany boasts the highest quotient (nine), one less than last year though still ahead of the US, which is the home for eight of the ranked publishers.

Interestingly, no one country dominates the top, with Germany, the UK and the Netherlands the home to two groups within the top 10. Though the US has only one company in the top 10, eight of those groups generate the majority of their book revenue within the US.

Japan now has seven publishers within the top 50, though its highest ranked group is 15th on the list. However, given their rate of growth in 2009 this situation may be subject to change.

Interestingly, no sector of publishing has yet become dominant within the top 10, even though for three of the biggest four groups the economic vagaries of consumer book publishing remain just a distant memory.

Global top 10

1 Pearson €5,290m
2 Reed Elsevier €5,024m
3 ThomsonReuters €3,813m
4 Wolters Kluwer €3,425m
5 Bertelsmann €2,969m
6 Hachette Livre €2,273m
7 Grupo Planeta €1,804m
8 McGraw–Hill Education €1,666m
9 De Agostini Editore €1,616m
10 Holtzbrinck n/a

The full ranking can see in The Bookseller this week.

* The Livres Hebdo global ranking of the publishing industry was compiled by consultant Ruediger Wischenbart and co-published by The Bookseller, Buchreport (Germany), and Publishers Weekly (US). The ranking is based on publishers' own reported revenues, and only based on "publishing" sales, including books, journals and professional information in commercially run databases. Research was completed by May 2010. Exchange rates used: (€1 = £0.904; = $1.434; = 132 Yen; = 1.5 Can$)