Monday, January 17, 2022

Why Do Big 5 Publishers Still Dominate Best-Seller Lists?


According to Publishers Weekly, their best-seller lists continue to be dominated by the top book publishers. 91% of all best-seller list spots for hardcovers were occupied last year by just five publishers – up from the 89.1% in 2020. Trade paperbacks showed a similar dominance by the Big 5 – 77.4% of all such bestseller spots were filled in 2021 by Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan. The question is: Why?


Traditional publishers, overall, were responsible for releasing around one out of every six published titles in 2021. That means they published about 15% of the new books but they took up 91% of the best-seller space for hardcovers and 77.4% for trade paperbacks.


Let’s explore why – but first, let’s give credit where credit is due. The Big 5 got to where they are because they publish quality books from great authors, know how to package them up, utilize their distribution legs, and call upon their marketing muscle to generate buzz and sales. Top editors clean up great works that were acquired through a strenuous elimination process that saw publishers and literary agents filtering out millions of manuscripts.


Ok, now why are the best-seller lists dominated by just five publishers?


·       These five own many imprints and keep gobbling up competitors, so it is no wonder that the biggest companies also gobbled up the biggest sellers.

·       Many self-published books are discriminated against by major book reviewers and bookstores. Without the reviews or shelf space, it is hard to crack best-seller lists.

·       Where books are sold accounts for how these best-seller lists are tabulated. So, if an author sells lots of books through their site or at an event -- and are not accounted for by amazon or a book store, it is as if the sales never happened.

·       How sales are calculated impacts these lists. For instance, a book could sell tens of thousands of copies this year – and not make a list. Another one can sell 2500 copies and make a list. How is that possible? The lists tabulate weekly sales at certain book retail outlets. If an author sells 2500 copies through bookstores in one week, they can hit a list. If an author sells 1000 a week for 20 weeks, they will never make a list – but outsell the best-seller overall by 8 to 1.

·       Brand name recognition.  Readers buy brands they know: big publishing labels and big-name authors. Bigness begets bigness.

·       Dominance of review space and media coverage. If the media is giving exposure to only certain big-name writers or is more willing to write about books from certain big-pocket publishers that will then yield advertisements from that publisher, well, follow the money.

·       The marketing budgets of most authors are small or non-existent; whereas a publisher can put resources into marketing certain books that will hit a list.

·       List manipulation. This occurs every week. Big marketers know how to buy up copies of the book in a certain manner that allows a book to hit a list. Some authors will spend well over $200,000 to make a list – and no one will know that it happened.


The book publishing world of best-seller lists is not a fully level playing field. Out of two million books published in 2021 – 5,000 a day – it seems only the ones put out by the Big 5 have the ability to hit a list. We should question why.

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Brian Feinblum, the founder of this award-winning blog, can be reached at He is available to help authors promote their story, sell their book, and grow their brand. He has 30 years of experience in successfully helping thousands of authors in all genres.

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About Brian Feinblum

Brian Feinblum should be followed on Twitter @theprexpert. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2022. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America. For more information, please consult: 

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