At the end of 2020, the Hachette Book Group was the fourth-largest trade publisher in the country, with estimated annual sales of roughly $700 million. When the acquisition of Simon & Schuster—the third-largest trade publisher—by #1 trade publisher Penguin Random House is finally completed, HBG will move into the third spot.
Last week, HBG took a major step to ensure that it will assume S&S’s position as the largest trade publisher behind PRH and HarperCollins, with its agreement to acquire Workman Publishing for $240 million. One of few remaining independent publishers of its size, Workman had sales of $134 million last year, and its addition will get HBG revenue over the $800 million level.
HBG CEO Michael Pietsch noted that the Workman deal was HBG’s sixth, and largest, acquisition in eight years. Similar to the previous five, the Workman purchase adds more nonfiction and backlist titles to what had once been a heavily frontlist-fiction-oriented publisher. The five earlier purchases added about 9,000 titles to HBG, and the Workman deal will bring 3,500 more, which are part of a highly profitable Workman backlist. Pietsch praised the depth and quality of the Workman catalog.
Workman CEO Dan Reynolds, who will continue to oversee the company under HBG, said that at some Workman imprints, 70%–80% of revenue is generated by its backlist. He added that Workman’s strategy has always been to develop a list in which one-third of the titles per season translate into ongoing backlist sales, and in some cases become franchises.
Indeed, Workman has created some of publishing’s best-known and bestselling brands, including the What to Expect and Brain Quest series, as well as Page-a-Day calendars. One of its rapidly growing new brands is its Atlas Obscura line of books and products, with a new entry, Gastro Obscura, due out October 12.
Pietsch called Workman “a brilliant publisher, the most creative in the industry,” noting that it pioneered the method of combining images and information to create popular books.
Workman Publishing currently has about 300 employees in offices in New York City; Chapel Hill, N.C.; North Adams, Mass.; and Portland, Ore. Its imprints are Workman, Algonquin, Algonquin Young Readers, Artisan, Storey Publishing, and Timber Press. The purchase is expected to be completed before the end of September, and at that point Workman will become HBG’s eighth publishing group. Carolan Workman—who has been heading the publisher since the death of her husband, company founder Peter Workman, in 2013—will retire following the completion of the deal.
Reynolds said finding a new owner for Workman, which launched in 1968, had been in the works for a few years and involved discussions with more than a dozen parties. Reynolds added that Carolan Workman’s “#1 priority in finding a new home for the company, even over price, was the security of our employees, and we have found that with Hachette. They understand what makes us tick.”
Pietsch said given that most of Workman’s most popular books and products have been developed in-house, HBG would be “crazy” to interfere with the company. “They have a unique culture,” he explained.
Workman will bring more to HBG than just its backlist. With its unique approach to publishing, Workman has maintained it own sales force and has sold its line far beyond bookstores. Both Reynolds and Pietsch said that they see a big opportunity in reaching gift stores and other specialty markets with a broader list from the combined companies. Another practical reason for the deal, Reynolds noted, is to relieve some of the financial pressure of investing in new products and maintaining an infrastructure. Freed from those concerns, Workman can devote its full attention to developing new products.