Bloomsbury Publishing chief executive Nigel Newton has made no secret of his desire to grow the publisher's professional and academic holdings while also expanding overseas, particularly in the U.S. He has now satisfied both objectives in one deal, acquiring the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group’s academic publishing business.

At a price of $83 million, the purchase marks the biggest acquisition by Bloomsbury to date. To complete it, Bloomsbury paid a sales multiple of 2.2 times RLPG's 2023 professional/academic revenue of $36 million, and a multiple of nearly 14 times RLPG's $6 million earnings in the category last year. Still, Newton clearly believed the acquisition was worth the price. The move significantly strengthens Bloomsbury’s academic publishing in North America, and also provides more backlist titles to be digitized by Bloomsbury Digital Resources.

The purchase, which has already been completed, adds more than 40,000 academic titles published under the Rowman & Littlefield and Lexington Books imprints, which cover the subjects of academic arts, humanities, and social sciences, including in such subject areas as business and psychology, in which Bloomsbury is "building a presence," the company said. According to the announcement, the acquisition nearly doubled Bloomsbury's total number of academic titles, which now number some 97,000.

The transaction is exclusive to Rowman & Littlefield's academic publishing division, and does not include its trade publishing arm, Globe Pequot, with two exceptions: the Applause and Backbeat imprints, which publishing drama and theater titles and music titles, respectively, have been acquired as part of the deal. The publisher's K-8 education business, Sundance-Newbridge, and its trade distribution division, National Book Network, were also unaffected by the purchase.

Jed Lyons, CEO of RLPG, told PW that he met Newton for the first time last December, and while he wasn't looking for a sale, he said Newton made "a compelling case that our academic business and Bloomsbury’s are a good fit. I came to see that it’s the right choice for us, for our authors, and for the 116 talented colleagues who are joining Bloomsbury." Lyons added that he believes the purchase price was driven by two factors: the eventual need by AI companies to license content ("they can't keep stealing content forever," he quipped) and the lack of another academic publisher of size to buy.

"We were still looking, but there is nothing available," said Lyons. (An acquisitions veteran himself, he has acquired 50 companies over the 50 years that RLPG has been in business.) As for Globe Pequot and the other parts of the business Lyons has retained, he said it was "business as usual," adding that he is talking to another small trade house about a possible acquisition.

For his part, Newton called the purchase a "game-changer," correctly pointing out that "Rowman & Littlefield is one of the few independent U.S. academic publishers of such scale." While last week, Bloomsbury reported record sales and profits for the fiscal year ended February 29, the increase came from the consumer division, driven in particular by soaring sales of Sarah J. Maas titles. Sales in Bloomsbury's academic and professional group, on the other hand, fell 4%—a decline Newton said he hoped to rectify.

The purchase also gives a significant boost to Bloomsbury's business in the U.S., which accounted for 56% of company sales in fiscal 2024. The infusion of revenue from RPLG will bring Bloomsbury's U.S. revenue to about $300 million going forward.