The private equity firm KKR has completed its $1.62 billion acquisition of Simon & Schuster. KKR emerged as the winning bidder in early August after Penguin Random House’s acquisition for S&S was blocked by the government in late 2022. Not many new details were disclosed about how S&S will operate that were not already revealed when the purchase was first announced. The publisher will continue to be led by current CEO Jonathan Karp and COO and CFO Dennis Eulau.
In his letter to employees, Karp highlighted the fact that, with the purchase by KKR, S&S will no longer be part of a media conglomerate for the first time since 1975, when it was acquired by Gulf + Western. Instead, it is now part of a portfolio of companies owned by KKR, which includes the digital distributor OverDrive. As of December 31, 2022, KKR’s traditional private equity portfolio consisted of more than 125 companies, with approximately $290 billion in collective annual revenue.
While the deal has been completed, S&S is still working with KKR and its most recent owner, Paramount Global, to completely detach the publisher from any shared services it had with Paramount in such areas as human resources, information technology, legal, facilities, and accounting. No timetable indicating when all those transitions will be completed has been released. There are no plans to move S&S from its current offices in New York City’s Rockefeller Center.
Karp’s letter picked up on themes that were part of the original purchase announcement, in that he expects KKR to provide the support and resources needed to grow the company in such areas as distribution and international expansion. The sentiments were echoed by Ted Oberwager, a partner who leads KKR's gaming, entertainment, media and sports verticals. “Today Simon & Schuster and KKR are officially one family,” Oberwager said in a prepared statement. “The company is in a strong position to capture the opportunity ahead, and we look forward to building on Simon & Schuster’s reputation for delivering engaging and compelling books to readers all over the world.”
The completion of the purchase also gives S&S’s roughly 1,600 employees the chance take part in an employee ownership program, which could give employees a substantial payout should S&S be sold at some later date. KKR sold audiobook publisher RBmedia earlier this year, after five years of ownership, a period the company said was consistently marked by annual double-digit revenue gains; following the sale, longterm employees received a payment of up to two times their annual salary.
S&S has been on its own growth spurt the last few years, driven in part by the success of Colleen Hoover. It posted record sales and earnings in 2022 and, through the first half of 2023, sales were up 8%, to $550 million, and operating income jumped 14%, to $149 million. S&S’s third quarter results will be revealed when Paramount’s financials are published November 2, but that is the last time the publisher’s financial performance will be disclosed as it transitions into private ownership under the KKR umbrella.