Nearly three months to the day after the completion of the ViacomCBS merger, the mass media company has indicated its intentions to possibly sell Simon & Schuster, one of the U.S.'s Big Five publishers.
Word that ViacomCBS was looking to sell S&S came at a Morgan Stanley investor conference where ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish said the publishing house is not a core asset and that the company has received interest in the past from companies about buying S&S. Bakish said when the market stabilizes it will engage in the process of selling the company. To address the report, in a March 4 letter to staff, S&S president and CEO Carolyn Reidy broke the news about Bakish's remarks and added that further developments would be shared when they were available.
"Whatever the outcome, this process does not change what we know to be true of Simon & Schuster," Reidy wrote. "We are a great publishing house and one of the world’s best known publishing brands, with an incredible legacy and bright future. We have a tremendous track record of producing best sellers in every category and format, and for readers of every age. We have a history of strong and long lasting relationships with our authors, and we will continue to bring important voices to readers around the world, both with our current publishing and our rich backlist of perennially favorite titles."
Simon & Schuster's place in ViacomCBS's otherwise film and television–focused portfolio was unclear from the jump, and speculation over the sale has spread in certain circles in the industry since the ViacomCBS merger was approved, let alone completed. Should S&S be sold to another of the Big Five, it would mark the second major merger of the U.S. publishing landscape's biggest publishers in less than a decade, following the merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013.
Some in the industry have guessed at potential buyers already. First among them is News Corp., the Rupert Murdoch-owned mass media and publishing company, which owns HarperCollins, another of the Big Five. HC has a history of making big acquisitions, having bought both Thomas Nelson (2012) and Harlequin (2014). News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson has supported the expansion of HC and HC CEO Brian Murray has said in the past that the company would consider another acquisition if the right deal came along.
Hachette Book Group parent company the Lagardère Group is another corporation that likes the book business. The company has supported a string of acquisitions by HBG, most recently the purchase of 1,200 children's book titles from Disney.
Should S&S be bought and merged with one of the Big Five, the resulting Big Four would only be more proof of consolidation in an industry that had a Big Six only eight years ago. Amazon's rising size as a publisher in its own right complicates the landscape somewhat as well.
Simon & Schuster was founded in 1924 by Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster. Its portfolio includes 17 adult imprints, 11 children's imprints, two audio publishing imprints, four international branches—in Australia, Canada, India, and the U.K.—and a growing distribution business whose clients include Andrews McMeel, Boom! Studios, Kaplan Publishing, Viz Media, and more.
"This process will surely be an adventure for all of us, but we are a company that has always risen to the challenges we face," Reidy wrote. In the meantime, we will continue to do what we do best: connecting remarkable authors to audiences everywhere."