John Wiley & Sons, which specializes in technical, business, professional and educational publishing, has announced an agreement to acquire Hungry Minds, the how-to and computer book publisher and online learning portal, for about $90 million in cash. Wiley will also assume about $92.5 million in Hungry Minds debt. International Data Group, which owns about 80% of Hungry Minds, has agreed to sell its shares. The acquisition is subject to regulatory and stockholder clearance. Wiley officials said they expect the acquisition to be completed by mid-September.
Victimized by falling computer book sales and disappointing results from its educational Web sites, Hungry Minds has been forced by its lenders to find a buyer. Formerly known as IDG Books Worldwide, Hungry Minds published its Dummies series of how-to books to great success. But subsequent acquisitions of well-known title brands such as Betty Crocker Cookbooks, Cliffs Notes study guides, Frommer's travel guides and even HungryMinds.com, the online learning site the company was later renamed for, left the firm saddled under a mounting burden of debt in the midst of an economic downturn. The firm's losses continue to grow. Net revenues for the third quarter, ending June 30, were $41.4 million, down 25% from third-quarter results ($55.2 million) a year ago.
William J. Pesce, Wiley president and CEO, said the acquisition will "accelerate Wiley's revenue and earnings growth and enhance our competitive position in the professional/trade market."
Hungry Minds has about 2,500 active titles in addition to managing well-known Web sites such as Cliffsnotes.com. After several rounds of layoffs, the company has about 500 employees.
There are also reports that Wiley may be interested in selling off parts of Hungry Minds. Barnes & Noble has been reported to be interested in some of Hungry Minds' learning guides series. B&N spokesperson Mary Ellen Keating told PW, "We look at things all the time and I can't confirm or deny any interest." In addition, William Gladstone, founder of Waterside Productions, an agency that handles computer book authors, told PW that he has put together a group to pursue HM's technical publishing assets. Gladstone said the group includes technical publishing executives, an unnamed computer book author and, as an adviser, Julian Capital, a "boutique" technology investment banking firm based in Berkeley, Calif.
Susan Spilka, a spokesperson for Wiley, told PW that the company was primarily focusing on closing the sale. She said questions about selling off parts of the company, the possibility of further layoffs at Hungry Minds or whether its brands will continue were premature. "We're focused on the acquisition, and we're going to take the time to learn more about the programs and people at Hungry Minds."