England is a country of books, as illustrated by the fact that its book market is the fifth-largest in the world, behind only the US, China, Japan and Germany. There are about 8000 publishing companies in the UK, most of which are small and hire only a few people. Additionally, there are many freelancers. There is a lot of money in books and publishing, and the annual turnover for books and journals is around three billion pounds.
UK’s Biggest Publishing Houses
The publishing sector has several well-known players who take up a large part of the market. The biggest is Penguin Random House, which is responsible for about a quarter of all the books sold. The Penguin Group was founded in 1935, and in 2013 it merged with Random House. Hachette UK is the next biggest with about 16 % market share, and behind it are HarperCollins and PanMacmillan.
Publishing Industry at a Turning Point
Books used to be difficult and expensive to make, print, and distribute. A writer’s only chance of success was getting their book published by one of the thousands of publishing houses. Even then, a book was quickly forgotten or ignored. There were, (and still are), so many books published, that a book had to be marketed, reviewed in the press, and the author would do well to tour literary fairs and book stores to sign copies, read parts of it, or give interviews. All of that is a lot of work, typically a full-time job, in addition to writing and researching for a book. And a book was equally easily ignored and completely forgotten, perhaps because it wasn’t marketed enough or it was targeted at the wrong audience, or its topic wasn’t appealing at the moment, or it came out just when several well-known authors had their latest books out. Authors used to be at the mercy of publishers, and they formed the necessary bridge between authors and readers. Ever since the world wide web became a part of people’s everyday lives, material for reading has become more and more widely available. A lot of the internet’s content is text, which means that people who browse the web for several hours per day already read a lot. As a consequence, interest in books and magazines has gone down. On the other hand, the internet can bypass the traditional role of publishing houses.
Nowadays, one can self-publish and sell one’s book in places such as Amazon, or on one’s personal website. Getting to be known online isn’t necessarily easy, but if one knows how to find one’s audience, the size of it can grow to millions. Likewise, a book is no longer officially dead if it didn’t find its audience the moment it was published since online books take up no space and can be found even decades later.