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Somerville House Books Looking for Buyers
Leah Eichler -- 6/12/00

Somerville House Books Limited, the Toronto-based children's publisher that has been struggling financially for years, is up for sale and president Jane Somerville said she is actively looking for buyers.

"The company is for sale and we are looking for strategic partners that can help us survive," Somerville told PW. Although currently in negotiations with a potential white knight, Somerville House, on May 31, filed its intent to restructure the company under Canadian bankruptcy laws. That leaves Somerville House with 30 days to finish the proposal and present it to its creditors; Mintz and Partner Ltd. are Somerville's trustees. "I'm in some ways sad, because it was something we were trying to avoid, but I think it is a necessary restructuring," Somerville noted.

Staff at the publishing house had their positions terminated on May 15, although some continue to work with Somerville from their homes after the company's landlords evicted Somerville from its offices. "We are functional 100%, but we have a virtual company at the moment, until the proposal is accepted," Somerville explained.

The last few years have not been easy for the children's book publisher or for Somerville personally. In 1996, the company launched three titles that didn't perform well and has been carrying the ensuing debt ever since. Somerville was also stricken with a brain tumor that year and spent most of 1996 regaining her health.

"Four years ago, the year of the brain tumor, we had C$3 million worth of debt that we built up and I have been carrying it around in a suitcase. It has really prevented us from delivering on some products," Somerville said.

The financial crisis at Somerville House in Canada will not affect Somerville House USA, which continues to be distributed by Penguin Putnam. "Penguin Putnam has been one of the major stakeholders at Somerville House [in Canada]. They will be pretty significant players in this [reorganization] proposal," Somerville said, admitting that it is possible that Penguin Putnam may be one of the contending buyers for the company.
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