The publishing world, and particularly the Christian publishing world, is abuzz because of the announcement today that HarperCollins (the third largest trade publisher in the United States) has purchased Thomas Nelson (which claims to be the seventh largest trade publisher). With Zondervan
and HarperOne already under the umbrella of HarperCollins (which itself is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.), half of all Christian trade publishing will be in the hands of a single entity.
What does it mean?
It means that Christian publishing is in a period of consolidation. All industries go through cycles of expansion and consolidation. Expansion is characterized by the growth of existing companies and the launching of new ones. Consolidation is characterized by firms going out of existence or being bought out by or merged with others. This is nothing new. It’s happened several times before over the last century, and it will happen again.
Why consolidation now? The number of Christian and general trade bookstores has been on decline for several years. The economy in general is stumbling toward recovery. Reading levels are declining very slowly. Sales of digital books have not generally made up the shortfall in traditional print sales.
This is clearly not the optimum time to start a new publishing house. But if you want to stay in the game, it is time to increase economies of scale. And the new HarperCollins/Zondervan/Nelson/Harper One behemoth certainly has scale. For other publishers, it means finding ways to stay close to readers, keep them loyal and be more efficient. It means being smarter.
In Moneyball Billy Beane tells his scouts for the Oakland Athletics that they can’t win at the Yankees’ game since they spend five times more on player salaries than the Athletics do. So he plays a different game, finding unknown players with an uncanny ability to get on base.
There’s an analogy there, somewhere.