IDG Books enhanced its position in the book industry last week by agreeing to acquire the Macmillan General Reference Group from Pearson except for the Complete Idiot's Guides series of titles. The $83-million deal, which includes all other General Reference lines and titles, is expected to close by the end of July.

IDG Books president Steven Berkowitz called the acquisition "a great strategic fit with our publishing program, our Internet objectives and our worldwide distribution capabilities." Berkowitz told PW that he expects the majority of people working on the various Macmillan brands to stay in place. "We are committed to the existing brands and the people who built those brands," Berkowitz explained. He added that while he expects to be able to leverage back-office functions, the editorial identities of the brands will remain intact. Although IDG Books is based in Foster City, Calif., it has offices around the country; Berkowitz said that with the acquisition, he expects the company "to have a major New York presence."

Among the well-known brands acquired from Pearson are Frommer's Travel Guides, J.K. Lasser Tax Guides, Betty Crocker Cookbooks, Weight Watchers Dieting and Cookbooks and Howell House Pet Books. Including the individual titles that are part of the purchase, the deal involves more than 3000 active titles. IDG has a 10-year license to use the Macmillan name that appears on certain books (e.g., The Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia) but will wind down other references to Macmillan over the next 18 months.

Once the deal is closed, the imprints will become part of IDG Books' consumer group, which is headed by former Macmillan executive Roland Elgey. IDG Books, best known for its For Dummies series, has been looking to broaden its publishing program and was considered one of the likely candidates to acquire the Macmillan imprints.

With the sale of Macmillan General Reference, Pearson has completed its planned divestiture of the reference, business and professional operations that it acquired from Simon & Schuster but which did not fit with Pearson's core educational publishing programs. Pearson raised $356 million through the divested properties, which had combined sales of $174 million last year.

The divested companies were originally slated to be acquired by Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, but the investment group backed out of the deal at the last minute. Pearson has sued Hicks for breach of contract.

Pearson retained a number of companies that Hicks had agreed to acquire, including Macmillan Computer Publishing USA, the New York Institute of Finance and Prentice Hall Direct. A spokesperson told PW the Complete Idiot's Guides series will now be published by Macmillan Computer Publishing, where the series originated.