This year was generally a quiet one for mergers and acquisitions, but there was one notable exception: Elliott Advisors’ purchase of Barnes & Noble, valued at $683 million. With the acquisition, Elliott, the private equity firm that owns U.K. bookstore chain Waterstones, put Waterstones CEO James Daunt in charge of B&N.
Two other big deals were announced in 2019 but will not close until 2020. In May, educational giants McGraw-Hill and Cengage agreed to merge in an all-stock transaction. The deal comes against the backdrop of a rapidly changing educational publishing market, particularly in college publishing. The merger will bring together two companies that publish materials for the K–12, higher education, English-language teaching, professional, medical, and library reference markets.
Among the Big Five trade publishers, only Penguin Random House, and its parent company Bertelsmann, did any deals in 2019. Late in the year, Bertelsmann announced it was acquiring Pearson’s 25% stake in PRH. When the transaction closes in the second quarter of 2020, Bertelsmann will own 100% of the giant trade publisher.
In June, PRH bought a 45% stake in Sourcebooks, one of the country’s largest independent publishers. PRH also acquired the book assets of F+W Media in July, following the bankruptcy filing of the book and magazine publisher. In addition, the Penguin Young Readers division purchased Eric Carle LLC, the holder of IP rights for picture book creator Eric Carle. The deal—which includes global publishing rights to all of Carle’s children’s books, along with the company’s licensing business—is expected to close on Jan. 1, 2020.
Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster’s parent company CBS merged with Viacom to create ViacomCBS, a media conglomerate with about $28 billion in revenue.
Two companies made multiple purchases this year. Rowman & Littlefield bought both Prometheus Books and McBooks as it continues its acquisitive ways. (RLPG CEO Jed Lyons was named one of PW’s notable people of 2019, see p. 28.) And Chicago Review Press, sister company of IPG, acquired Council Oaks Books and Amberjack Publishing.
One of the more interesting deals in the year was Highlights for Children’s sale of its trade book publishing arm—comprising Boyds Mills Press and its affiliated imprints, Calkins Creek and WordSong—to Kane Press. The new company, Boyds Mills & Kane, will be headquartered in the Kane Press offices in New York City and is owned by Thinkingdom Ltd., a subsidiary of Beijing-based Thinkingdom Media Group.
Consolidation in the printing industry continued when the CJK Group, which has acquired a number of printers, bought the assets of Thomson-Shore in May after it filed for bankruptcy. But a deal announced last year that would have united the two biggest companies in the industry was called off in July. Quad’s bid to buy LSC Communications was dropped by mutual agreement a month after the Justice Department sued to block the merger.