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Pearson tops global ranking of book publishers
12.07.09 | Philip Jones
Pearson is now the largest global publisher of books, according to a worldwide ranking of international publishers. An analysis of publisher revenue shows that Penguin’s parent has overtaken ThomsonReuters, with Reed Elsevier moving up to second place, while Random House’s owner Bertelsmann has slipped to fifth position.
Pearson is one of only two companies in the top 10 list to have significantly grown sales organically over 2008 as the worsening recession has forced companies into either restructurings or divestments. Pearson’s sales grew 5%, behind Reed Elsevier’s 9% growth. Both were dwarfed, however by Spain’s Planeta, which saw annual revenue up 76%, following the acquisition of France’s second largest publisher, Editis.
Planeta and the giant children’s publisher Scholastic are the only two groups to break into the top 10, at the expense of the troubled Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the beleaguered US publisher Reader’s Digest. Scholastic is back in after dropping out in 2007.
According to Ruediger Wischenbart, who compiles the data for the French trade magazine Livres Hebdo, the rise of Planeta and the more modest growth at Pearson are bucking a recent trend among the global trade publishers. The top 10 trade publishers have seen their collective sales drop by 7% between 2006 and 2008.
Bertelsmann is one of the biggest losers among the top 10 global publishers, though the decline was due to its divestment of its book clubs business in the US, with Random House’s sales actually down by just 6%. By contrast, Reader’s Digest has dropped 13 places, from eighth to 21st, with its book sales more than halved year-on-year, thanks to the decline in its book clubs, and continuing restructurings.
Of the non-trade publishers, ThomsonReuters has seen the largest change in nominal book sales, but most of the shift was down to an internal restructuring, following Thomson and Reuters’ merger, which saw book publishing shifted into a unit now known as the Professional Division—and €1.5bn (£1.3bn) smaller than the division that previously housed Thomson’s dwindling book interests.
John Wiley, meanwhile, is one of the biggest winners among the top 50, thanks principally to a full year’s trading from its acquisition of Blackwell Publishing in 2007.
The Scandinavian children’s publisher Egmont has also seen its position shoot up from 51st last year to 23rd in 2008. According to Wischenbart, this shift was structural since it bundled all of its children’s publishing activities in a new division. Yet it overtook local rival Bonnier, which has been steadily growing a portfolio in the UK, most recently through Templar Publishing in September.
Away from those either engaged in internal restructurings or acquisitions, Wischenbart said that a number of middle-ranking companies had "contradicted the general difficult environment for trade publishers", including Holtzbrinck, Oxford University Press, the Spanish Grupo Santillana, and the graphic novel specialist Marvel.
In terms of the global make-up of the list, 32 publishers can trace their ultimate parentage to a European group, including five based in the UK. Germany boasts 10. The US can reasonably claim eight publishers, while Japan has seven. This is scarcely unchanged since last year.
The make-up of the list was affected by the fall in the value of the US dollar and British sterling against the euro, with many of the larger multi-internationals earning much of their revenues in dollars, while reporting in euros.
Nevertheless, the trends are clear. According to Wischenbart: "Altogether, 2008 may be seen in retrospect as a year of transition, with the traditional world of integrated publishing and the predominance of the book lessening, making more and more room for innovation that will certainly be more complex, more competitive, and may well include more digital—even for trade publishers."