Hatchette to Buy Workman: “A Wave of Consolidation Is Reshaping Book Publishing”

From a New York Times story by Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter headlined “Hatchette to Buy Workman for $240 Million as Publishing Continues Consolidation”:

Hachette Book Group said that it had agreed to buy Workman Publishing, an independent company known for titles like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and the “Brain Quest” workbooks, the latest expected acquisition in an industry whose power is increasingly concentrated in a handful of major companies….

Workman is one of the largest independent publishers in the United States and is appealing to its new parent for, among other reasons, its lucrative backlist. Backlists include books published years ago that continue to sell—as opposed to the front list of new titles—and at Workman, they are a major focus and a steady stream of reliable income. Michael Pietsch, the chief executive of the Hachette Book Group, said that three-quarters of Workman’s revenue comes from those older titles.

Carolan Workman, the executive chair of Workman, and Dan Reynolds, its chief executive, said that to make this happen, the company publishes relatively few titles a year and invests in them heavily. They also look for content that will be relevant for years, like pregnancy or gardening. “Carrots Love Tomatoes,” a book about plants that grow nicely together, has been reprinted 87 times since its first printing in 1975. Its “What to Expect” pregnancy and parenting guides have more than 40 million copies in print….

Ms. Workman’s husband, Peter Workman, founded the company in 1968, and they have always thought creatively about what a book can be. One of their first books, “The Great American Marble Book,” came with five leather sacks of marbles.

Ms. Workman established and led the international publishing division and has run the company since her husband’s death in 2013. She and Mr. Reynolds said that the succession plan for the business was always to sell….The most attractive offer came from Hachette, including a commitment to keeping its staff….

Mr. Pietsch said that while most publishers buy books that have been created by authors or others, 40 percent of Workman’s revenue comes from content it owns. “They have a much, much larger part of their business than anyone else I’ve ever seen, in books that are their own ideas,” he said. “They are constantly thinking what do children want, what do readers want, what do gardeners want, what do cooks want, and coming up with ideas of their own.”

If the deal is approved by federal regulators, Workman will become Hachette’s eighth publishing group and will be led by Mr. Reynolds, Workman’s chief executive, who will report to Mr. Pietsch….Ms. Workman will retire when the transaction closes, which is expected to happen this fall.

A wave of consolidation has profoundly reshaped the publishing industry in the past decade, with the merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013, News Corp’s purchase of the romance publisher Harlequin, and Hachette’s acquisition of Perseus Books.

The trend has accelerated in recent years, as the five biggest publishing houses have absorbed smaller companies in an effort to expand their backlists and compete for best selling authors in what has increasingly become a winners take all game…..

In March, HarperCollins announced that it was acquiring Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books and Media, the trade publishing division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for $349 million, gaining a vast and valuable backlist that includes perennial sellers by J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell, Philip Roth and Lois Lowry, as well as children’s classics and cookbooks and lifestyle guides. Last year, Penguin Random House struck a deal to acquire Simon & Schusterfrom ViacomCBS for more than $2 billion, a transaction that could create the first megapublisher if it withstands regulatory scrutiny….

In the decades since its founding, Workman became a leading publisher of nonfiction and advice and how-to brands. Its “Brain Quest” series of educational games and workbooks has more than 45 million copies in print. With its literary imprint, Algonquin Books, Workman has had breakout literary successes like Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants,” Tayari Jones’s “An American Marriage” and Lisa Ko’s acclaimed debut novel, “The Leavers.”

For Hachette, which has well known literary imprints like Little, Brown and a strong roster of commercial fiction, including blockbuster authors like James Patterson and Michael Connelly, Workman will further broaden its nonfiction backlist.

All the proceeds from the sale of Workman will go to Whispering Bells, a charitable foundation Ms. Workman founded with her husband.

Elizabeth A. Harris writes about books and publishing.

Alexandra Alter writes about publishing and the literary world. Before joining The Times in 2014, she covered books and culture for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she reported on religion, and the occasional hurricane, for The Miami Herald.


Speak Your Mind