Simon & Schuster, with a deep bench of brand-name writers, is for sale: “Because of Amazon, it has become a winner-takes-all business”

From a New York Times story by Edmund Lee headlined “Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Puts in a Bid for Simon & Schuster”:

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is making a play for Simon & Schuster, the venerable home to best-selling authors like Stephen King and Hillary Clinton that raised a ruckus this year after releasing a string of hit titles critical of President Trump.

The powerhouse publisher was put up for sale by its owner, ViacomCBS, in March, and the company has since fielded more than half a dozen inquiries. . . .In addition to News Corp, which already owns HarperCollins, a leading bidder is Penguin Random House, according to the people. Penguin Random House, the largest book publisher in the United States, is owned by the German media giant Bertelsmann. The French firm Vivendi, a minority owner of Hachette through the publisher Lagardère, has also made a bid. . . .

Simon & Schuster, one of the five largest book publishers in the country, has a deep bench of name-brand writers, including the children’s author Judy Blume, the novelist Annie Proulx and the journalist and historian Walter Isaacson. It also has several perennial best sellers, including “Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller; “Gone With the Wind,” by Margaret Mitchell; and “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie.

Publishing has become a winner-takes-all business, a circumstance brought on by Amazon’s aggressive pricing, and now a publisher needs size to survive. Tent-pole titles can better offset losses from weaker books. A bigger inventory can generate more data on the habits and interests of book buyers.

Those dynamics underpin the wave of consolidation that has swept the business in the last decade. Penguin and Random House merged, Hachette Book Group acquired Perseus Books, and News Corp bought the romance publisher Harlequin.

Founded as a publisher of crossword puzzle books in 1924 by Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster, Simon & Schuster expanded into a major house with 50 imprints, including Charles Scribner’s Sons, the publisher of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. The company now has 1,350 employees and publishes roughly 2,000 books a year.

More recently, Simon & Schuster has become known for a raft of best-selling tomes about the Trump administration, including “Rage,” a brutal assessment of Mr. Trump’s failures by the journalist Bob Woodward, and “Too Much and Never Enough,” a tell-all by his niece, Mary L. Trump. It also published “The Room Where It Happened,” an account of President Trump’s foreign policy escapades by John Bolton, his former national security adviser, and “Hoax,” an examination of the president’s relationship with Fox News, by the CNN media reporter Brian Stelter.

Mr. Murdoch’s HarperCollins division has also taken a bite out of the Trump presidency, publishing “The Case for Impeachment,” by the historian Allan J. Lichtman, and “Trumpocalypse,” by the journalist David Frum. It also released “The Man Who Sold America,” a scathing critique of his time in office by the MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid.

Mr. Trump, despite losing his campaign for a second presidential term, received more than 72 million votes and could field several big-dollar offers for a book. A deeper-pocketed Simon & Schuster could make a more competitive bid for a Trump book. . . .

The company has proved durable, even during the recent downturn. Simon & Schuster’s revenue rose 8 percent to $649 million this year through September. Profit before tax during the same period rose 6 percent, to $115 million.

Should a major publisher win the auction, Simon & Schuster is likely to undergo staff cuts. Departments such as human resources and finance are often slimmed down after a big merger. It is not clear how a deal might affect high-level positions at the company. Jonathan Karp, who was named Simon & Schuster’s chief executive this year after the sudden death of Carolyn Reidy, could be relegated to a lower role or be forced out. Not long after he took over, Mr. Karp named Dana Canedy, a former journalist and administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, as publisher of its namesake imprint, putting a Black woman in charge of one of the biggest publishing houses. . . .

Edmund Lee covers the media industry as it grapples with changes from Silicon Valley. Before joining The Times he was the managing editor at Vox Media’s Recode.

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