The announcement of Harper’s acquisition of Thomas Nelson, closed just before ICRS, the Christian retailers trade show in Orlando (July 15-18), brought reactions that ranged from relief to shrugs to speculation about what the deal will mean for Nelson, for Harper’s Zondervan unit, and for the Christian publishing industry.
One way the Nelson sale will certainly affect Christian publishing is in acquisitions. Though there is competition among Harper’s imprints for projects, they also cooperate and partner. Many publishers echoed Tracy Danz, v-p and publisher of the trade group for Zondervan, who noted that agents are grumbling about essentially having one less major player to sell to. Asked for details on other possible changes, Danz said, “None of us really know what’s going to happen.”
Publishers--even publishers of Bibles with whom the two companies compete--were not too concerned about competing with the new religion powerhouse. Said Sharon Heggeland, director of sales operations at Tyndale House, “We do our thing, and they do theirs—we have our own Bible translation [New Living Translation], and there’s a place for all of us.”
Speculation about consolidation was similarly sanguine, with many stating they did not expect either brand to be diluted. Said Dave Lewis, v-p of sales and marketing for Baker Publishing Group, “I think Harper will leave Nelson alone, which is what they have done in the past—with Harper San Francisco [now HarperOne] and with Zondervan.” Added Lewis, “There will be advantages for Nelson—in travel and other operational costs, better benefits for employees, more money for acquisitions.” What observers do expect is consolidation in back office functions, distribution, legal, human resources, perhaps sales.
Nelson employees who spoke to PW at the show were enthusiastic about their new ownership. Harper CEO Brian Murray, along with CFO Janet Gervasio and EVP of Operations Larry Nevins flew down to Nashville last week to meet with Nelson’s executive team, though no details about their visit were released at press time.