Literary house hopes to prosper at new parent company
HarperCollins has reached an agreement to acquire the Ecco Press for an undisclosed price. Based in Hopewell, N.J., Ecco is one of America's best-known literary houses; its authors include John Ashbery, Paul Bowles, Richard Ford, Louise Gluck, Czeslaw Milosz, Joyce Carol Oates and Tobias Wolff. The deal is expected to close July 1.

Daniel Halpern, Ecco's publisher and cofounder, told PW the acquisition by HC "will enhance what we've being trying to do" for nearly 30 years. In today's environment, he added, "it's nearly impossible to be an independent publisher, especially if you want to do the types of books we publish." A significant amount of Ecco's list comes from foreign publishers and, according to Halpern, the costs to acquire those titles have risen dramatically in the last six months. In addition, the costs to place its books in the major chains and printing costs have risen as well. "When we looked down the road, we didn't see a road; we saw a wall," Halpern recalled.

Ecco has been publishing approximately 60 titles per year and has a backlist of some 700 books. Despite the fact that its annual revenues are now close to $4 million, Ecco has been struggling to make a profit; Halpern estimates that the company was in the black only two or three times since 1991. The deal with HC will give Halpern the funds "to pay writers what they deserve and to get the books more exposure in the market," Halpern said.

At HC, Halpern will become v-p and editorial director of Ecco and will also serve as executive editor of HC's adult trade division. He will report to Cathy Hemming, executive v-p and publisher of HC. Halpern expects few, if any, of Ecco's 13 employees to move to New York.

HC president Jane Friedman called the Ecco purchase "an exciting development. The Ecco Press, with a superb backlist of literary fiction, nonfiction and p try... is a valuable addition to our company."