The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to alter the publishing landscape in the years ahead, but in the pre-virus age, the world’s 10 largest publishers in 2019 were largely the same as in 2018, according to Livres Hebdo/Publishers Weekly’s annual ranking of global publishers.
A year after the RELX Group (formerly Reed Elsevier) wrestled away the crown of the world’s largest publisher from longtime leader Pearson, the STM, business, and legal publisher stayed #1 with revenue in 2019 of $5.64 billion, about a 7% increase from 2018. The only change in the top 10 between 2018 and 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 on the ranking. Hampered by sluggish higher education sales, Pearson had another year of revenue decline but managed to hold onto third place on the global ranking with sales of $5.09 billion.
The other publishers on the top 10 list in 2019 are in the same positions they were in 2018. Publishers focused on the professional and educational markets took six of the top 10 spots on the global ranking, with the more trade-oriented publishers occupying the other four slots. Revenue for 2019 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.
How the pandemic will shape publishing going forward is not yet clear, but a couple of events not related to Covid-19 will affect future global rankings. Simon & Schuster, 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 slowed the sale process, it is expected to soon heat up again. Adding more interest in 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 overall worldwide, is also eyeing S&S. CEO Brian Murray, sources confirmed, 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 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 said the inability to agree with the government on what assets needed to be divested to gain approval for the deal was the reason behind the termination of the transaction. In 2019, McGraw-Hill was the world’s 11th-largest publisher and Cengage was 12th-largest.
The complete list of the world’s largest publishers will appear in an upcoming issue of PW.