Despite the fact that Penguin Random House US posted revenues of about $2.2 billion in 2018, CEO Madeline McIntosh told employees in a letter announcing the company’s decision to buy a 45% stake in independent publisher Sourcebooks that PRH US still has an “appetite for growth.” Last year, worldwide sales for PRH rose 1.9%, with acquisitions adding 4.6% to the increase, most of which was offset by foreign exchange losses. Though the deal allows Sourcebooks and Dominique Raccah, the company’s founder and publisher, to continue to operate independently, PRH US will benefit financially from Sourcebooks’ growth.
In a conference call, both McIntosh and Raccah emphasized that little will change in day-to-day operations at Sourcebooks. “My mantra is: let Sourcebooks be Sourcebooks,” McIntosh said, pointing to the publisher’s track record of sustained growth.
Raccah said that the rationale behind the PRH investment “is to create a bigger Sourcebooks,” adding that the company “will continue with our own model and create our own path.” She stressed that there will be no changes at Sourcebooks; its management will stay the same, it will continue to do its own distribution, and it will keep its headquarters in Naperville, Ill., as well as its offices in New York City, Connecticut, and Arizona. The company currently has about 140 employees, releases about 400 titles annually, and has a backlist of 4,500 titles.
Among the strengths of Sourcebooks that McIntosh said most appealed to her is its rapid growth in the children’s publishing sector, where it now has seven imprints and produces bestsellers such as P Is for Pterodactyl and Quantum Physics for Babies. She is also intrigued by Sourcebooks’ ability to develop titles that resonate in America’s heartland—particularly titles that appeal to reading groups.
“Dominique says Sourcebooks publishes books for their neighbors,” McIntosh said. “Well, their neighbors are different from the neighbors of those in New York publishing.”
In explaining the thinking behind the acquisition and its execution, McIntosh cited the success that PRH has had with Ten Speed Press since it bought the company in 2009. Because the deal allows Ten Speed to operate as it had before, she noted, Ten Speed—and, consequently, PRH—continues to stay on top of West Coast trends. McIntosh added that she has also been impressed by Raccah’s data-driven approach to publishing (an approach shared by PRH), as well as by Sourcebooks’ ability to develop content in-house to quickly respond to new trends.
The hands-off approach promised by PRH where Sourcebooks is concerned doesn’t mean that the two companies won’t be working together. “There are a number of areas where we have common interests, and as we work together, we can make these stronger,” Raccah said.
One such area is awareness of Sourcebooks’ brand on a global level, and the companies will have conversations about how PRH can best help to expand it. McIntosh said that, over time, PRH will support Sourcebooks’ continued growth into new channels, markets, and ventures.
Under the agreement, Sourcebooks has formed a new five-person management board that will be chaired by Raccah and will also include McIntosh and Nina von Moltke, PRH’s president of strategic development. McIntosh noted that though the board will serve as the official liaison between the two companies, she expects “many touchpoints to develop.”
McIntosh said there is no plan to take a majority stake in Sourcebooks. “Sourcebooks does fantastic stuff,” she added. “We want to help them get bigger, and we think we can learn from each other.”