While big deals dominated publishing acquisition activity in 2021—led by Clarivate’s buying ProQuest for $5.3 billion—acquisitions in 2022 were more a mix of private equity and niche purchases. The biggest deal for which an acquisition value was made public was Veritas Capital’s purchase of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The purchase, which had a value of $2.8 billion, came about one year after HMH sold its trade division to HarperCollins and rebranded itself as a learning technology company.
The private equity firm Jefferson River Capital was involved in the purchase of another well-known name in publishing circles, Follett Higher Education. FHE was Follett’s collegiate retail business, and its sale completed the Follett family’s exit from the education business after nearly 150 years. In summer 2021, the company sold its K–12 software and content division, Follett School Solutions, to the investment firm Francisco Partners. Also in 2021, Follett announced it was closing its school book fair business, but in early 2022, Literati, the Austin, Tex., subscription book box and online book club company, bought the fairs, which were rebranded as Literati Book Fairs and continue to serve pre-K–8 schools around the country.
There were a number of companies that made multiple acquisitions in the year. Astra Publishing House, backed by Thinkingdom Media Group, a Beijing-based publishing conglomerate, bought DAW Books, the science fiction and fantasy publisher, which has a backlist of about 2,000 titles featuring such authors as Tanith Lee, Melanie Rawn, Patrick Rothfuss, and Tad Williams. In a second deal, Astra acquired Toon Books, a leading publisher of easy-to-read comics and graphic novels for young readers. Toon became the seventh imprint in the Astra Books for Young Readers division.
RBmedia, owned by the KKR investment group, continued to acquire audiobook publishing companies to take advantage of the growth in the market driven by sales of digital audio. RBmedia made four acquisitions, including two German publishers and one based in France. The Swedish audio streaming subscription service giant Spotify completed its acquisition of the digital audiobook distributor Findaway in June. The deal was first announced in November 2021, but completion was delayed pending approval by regulators.
Sterling Publishing, the book publishing division of Barnes & Noble, which now operates under the Union Square & Co. imprint, made two purchases, acquiring the gift and publishing company Knock Knock, as well as the U.K. children’s book publisher Boxer Books.
On the independent publisher front, Rowman & Littlefield made two more deals involving publishers of regional titles, buying the adult line of Maine’s Tilbury House and North Country Books, which specializes in titles about the Adirondacks and Upstate New York. Turner Publishing also continued to be in acquisition mode, buying West Margin Press from the Ingram Content Group. To ensure it remains independent, Gibbs Smith employees became the sole owners of the Utah press, buying the 50% share of the company they didn’t own from cofounder Catherine Gibbs.
Among the Big Five publishers, only HarperCollins made an acquisition, buying Cider Mill Press, which became part of its HarperCollins Focus division.
In some other areas of the publishing industry, Lakeside Book Company, the book printing division of LSC Communications, acquired Phoenix Color, a specialty printer of book components, children’s books, and other print-related products. United Talent Agency acquired the U.K. literary agency Curtis Brown, and in the self-publishing market, Draft2Digital acquired Smashwords, a deal that combines the two largest independent distributors of self-published authors.