In a New York Times story this morning, the paper reported that the country’s two largest trade book publishers are the leading candidates to buy the country’s third largest trade publisher. HarperCollins and Penguin Random House are favored, and were cited as such after private equity firms reportedly dropped out of the bidding.

Several international publishers had been thought to be looking at S&S as well, with France's Vivendi believed to still have interest.

The story put the possible sale price at over $1.7 billion, at the very top of previous estimates about what S&S might bring. According to the NYT, the final bids are due before Thanksgiving, with a winner likely to be named shortly thereafter. The paper does have one giant caveat, observing that “a deal may not materialize.”

That HC and PRH are the two leading companies for HC is no surprise. HC has long eyed further expansion into book publishing and, as PW previously reported, HC CEO Brian Murray noted at a company Town Hall meeting this summer that the publisher was looking at acquiring S&S. PRH, seen by some as possibly too big to acquire S&S, was thrust into the mix in September when Thomas Rabe, CEO or PRH parent company Bertelsmann, told the Financial Times that the company was indeed very interested in buying S&S and said he had no antitrust concerns. “We looked at [antitrust concerns] and we don’t think it is an issue,” Rabe told the FT.

Sources had told PW ViacomCBS has been looking to finalize the sale before the end of the year. But at ViacomCBS’s recent third quarter call with analysts, executives did not put a timetable on the sale, saying only that the publisher was a valuable asset that is “performing extremely well as of late," and that ViacomCBS intends to complete the transaction in a fashion that will maximize shareholder value.

In its recent quarterly call with analysts, executives from HC New Corp did not address a possible S&S acquisition, but they did call HC one of the company’s “three pillars” for future growth. HC posted a huge profit gain in the period, with earnings jumping 45% on a 13% sales increase.

None of the publishers mentioned in the NYT story had any comment on the report.