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HarperCollins Buying Competitor?

Over the weekend a rumored purchase (now confirmed, see below) has surfaced in The Wall Street Journal (link). The word is that News Corp (owner of HarperCollins and The Wall Street Journal) will be buying the consumer division (HMH Books & Media) of educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

If this goes through, it means classic books by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and George Orwell would now be published by HarperCollins. (It would also include well-known books like the Martha Stewart lifestyle titles, the Carmen Sandiego franchise, the Curious George books, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, William Goldman’s Princess Bride, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and the Peterson Field Guides.)

For fans of C.S. Lewis, many of his books are already with HarperCollins. This purchase would bring titles like The Four Loves and Surprised by Joy under the same roof as Mere Christianity. For fans of Tolkien, this purchase includes the Lord of the Rings series, The Hobbit, as well as many of his other works.

Why the sale? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been zeroing in on its educational publishing efforts for some time. The sale will decrease their debt load and be a healthy fiscal move.

For HarperCollins, it creates another set of backlist titles with strong and seemingly unending revenue streams.

With Penguin Random House in the midst of buying Simon & Schuster (announced last November), there continues to be consolidation at the highest levels.

This purchase will have little effect on the Christian market since Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has not been active in that space for some time. But it does strengthen the HarperCollins catalog.

Keep an eye out for further news as this develops.

UPDATE:

The purchase of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt by News Corp (owner of HarperCollins) has been confirmed. A press release can be found at this link.

Highlights from the press release include:

Sale price: $349 million in cash. (Closing is subject to standard regulatory approval.)
Includes more than 7,000 titles.
In 2020 total sales for HMH Books & Media was $191.7 million.
Quote from the release: “HarperCollins expects to realize immediate cost savings, accumulating to more than $20 million annually within two years, including manufacturing, distribution and other cost efficiencies.”

Further thoughts:
This isn’t something new in the book industry. HarperCollins bought Thomas Nelson Publishers in 2012 and Harlequin in 2014. Both of those entities continue to operate with their own identity. (Thomas Nelson is part of the larger HarperCollins Christian Publishing division, HCCP, which includes Zondervan.)

In case you are thinking this type of thing is a signal of decline, note how common this has been over the years.

In my 40 years in the Christian publishing industry, I’ve seen the sale of Christian publishers like Regal Books, Revell (more than once), Bethany House, Chosen Books, Multnomah, Word Books, Integrity Books, Worthy Publishing, Howard Books, Summerside Press, Rose Publishing, Standard Publishing, Lighthouse of the Carolinas, the Heartsong imprint of Barbour, and more that I can’t think of off the top of my head.

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