After wresting the crown from longtime #1 Pearson in 2018, STM, business, and legal publisher RELX Group (formerly Reed Elsevier) remained the world’s largest publisher last year, with revenue of $5.64 billion, according to Livres Hebdo and Publishers Weekly’s annual ranking. The only change in the top 10 in 2019 was in the second and third spots, where Thomson Reuters, with a 3% increase in revenue to $5.28 billion, overtook Pearson and moved into second place. Sluggish higher education sales and restructuring efforts aimed at making the company more streamlined resulted in another year of revenue decline at Pearson, but it managed to hold on to third place, with sales of $5.09 billion.

The other top 10 publishers in 2019 are in the same positions they held in 2018’s global ranking. Companies focused on the professional and educational markets took six of the top 10 spots, with the more trade-oriented publishers occupying the other four slots. Revenue last year was basically flat in Bertelsmann’s book publishing segments, which include both the world’s largest trade publisher, Penguin Random House, and the company’s small but growing education division. Bertelsmann was the #4 publisher in 2019.

Overall, the 2019 ranking features a total of 55 publishing groups with combined revenue of more than $67 billion, compared to 56 groups with total revenue of $66 billion in 2018. Almost 60% of total revenue of companies on the list was generated by professional and academic publishers, while consumer and educational publishers each accounted for slightly more than 20%. The top 10 companies, which have driven most of the growth in recent years, account for 53% of all revenue of companies on the list (with the next 10 companies adding another 21%). The dominance of the top 10 publishers has been firmly in place for about a decade.

Acquisitions have been the primary method through which the largest publishers have gained market share, and that strategy is sure to continue. Though the Covid-19 pandemic has limited acquisition activity in 2020, action is expected to increase in 2021 as companies get a better handle on what the post-pandemic book publishing world looks like.

French media conglomerate Vivendi returned to the book business in early 2019 with its purchase of France’s Editis from Spain’s Planeta. The purchase made Editis the 26th-largest book publisher in the world in 2019, and many industry observers expect Vivendi to look to increase its presence in book publishing, possibly by buying an English-language company. Vivendi already controls a 22% stake in Lagardère, parent company of the world’s sixth-largest publisher, Hachette Livres, whose subsidiaries include Hachette Book Group. Vivendi has been rumored as a possible buyer of Simon & Schuster.

S&S, the third-largest trade publisher in the U.S., was put up for sale by new parent company ViacomCBS at the beginning of 2020, and, while the pandemic has slowed the sale process, a deal is expected to be completed before the end of this year. Adding more interest to the fate of S&S was an interview Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe gave the Financial Times in early September, in which he said the German giant would be prepared to make a bid for S&S whenever the sale process resumed.

HarperCollins, the second-largest trade publisher in the U.S. and the ninth-largest publisher worldwide, is also eyeing S&S. CEO Brian Murray told employees at a town hall meeting that HC has an interest in acquiring the publisher.

A company that will not move into the top 10 in 2020’s ranking is a merged McGraw-Hill–Cengage. The two educational publishing giants called off their proposed merger in May after a yearlong investigation by the Department of Justice. The companies blamed their inability to agree with the government on which assets need to be divested to gain approval for the deal. In 2019, McGraw-Hill and Cengage were the world’s 12th- and 13th-largest publishers, respectively.

The full report from which this ranking is drawn, as well as profiles of all the publishers listed, can be viewed at

Note: Figures are based on sales generated in each calendar year or, for companies that report based on fiscal years, in each fiscal year. Companies must have annual sales of at least $150 million to be included. Data is from publicly available sources or from individual companies and includes sales of books, journals, professional information, and digital products. Pannini and Disney are excluded from the ranking because they don’t report separate data for their publishing divisions. The listing was compiled by international publishing consultant Ruediger Wischenbart under the aegis of Livres Hebdo.

Source: Livres Hebdo