Bloomsbury Publishing took an important step in expanding its presence in the U.S. market late last month with the acquisition of Walker Publishing Company. Walker will operate as a division of Bloomsbury's U.S. subsidiary, Bloomsbury USA, with Walker president and publisher George Gibson reporting to Karen Rinaldi, Bloomsbury USA publisher. The deal includes an initial payment of $6.5 million plus $500,000 in incentives.
Rinaldi said the combination of Walker and Bloomsbury "will make each group stronger," while Gibson said one of the major virtues of the deal is that "we mesh so well." Walker publishes 55 to 60 titles annually, divided equally between adult and children's books. It has only a few adult fiction titles, an area of strength for Bloomsbury, while its nonfiction list, with a strong narrative component, is different from Bloomsbury's more general-interest line. In the children's market, Walker brings a solid nonfiction list to Bloomsbury plus access to the school and library market. Rinaldi said she expects the Walker list to "expand and diversify" under Gibson. Bloomsbury, headquartered in N.Y.C.'s Flatiron Building, will keep Walker's space on Fifth Avenue, but "we're not sure who'll go where," Rinaldi said.
Walker, founded in 1959 by Sam Walker, was one of the few remaining independent publishers of size in New York. Gibson said that Walker's independence "was no small thing," but that "looking at the challenges ahead," the right thing to do was to find a partner. Chairman Ramsey Walker told PW that with the consolidation of the industry, "there are real benefits to scale, particularly on the distribution side. We felt that if we were to continue to create good opportunities for our authors and employees, we need to take advantage of those benefits." Becoming part of a publisher the size of Bloomsbury will give Walker benefits of scale without getting the disadvantages, Ramsey Walker said.
Walker, which had done well in past years with such literary nonfiction works as Longitudeand Cod, saw sales soften in 2004 as the reading public focused on political books. "The interest in narrative nonfiction wasn't there like it had been," Gibson said. Annual sales have been between $ 6 million and $7 million. With the election over and supported by the resources of Bloomsbury, Gibson is looking forward to building on the Walker name.
The Walker acquisition is part of Bloomsbury chairman Nigel Newton's goal of expanding the company beyond the U.K. Helped by the success of Harry Potter, Bloomsbury's expansion drive included the April 2003 purchase of Berlin Verlag.