HarperCollins inks to sell Basic Books

HarperCollins Publishers, a division of News Corp., has signed a letter of intent to sell its Basic Books division to Washington, D.C.-based Perseus Books.

Perseus Books chairman Frank H. Pearl has tapped Jack McKeown, the former president and publisher of HarperCollins’ adult trade group, to become president and CEO of the publisher.

The two companies also reached an agreement in which HarperCollins will sell and distribute Basic Books and the other imprints in the Perseus Group for the next two years, according to a HarperCollins spokesman.

Founded in 1952, Basic Books had been one of the most respected publishers of serious trade and academic nonfiction, specializing in major political and social issues. The house — which HarperCollins acquired in 1969 — has in the past published approximately 100 hardcover and trade paperback titles per year.

“The acquisition of Basic is a perfect fit for the growing Perseus Group, which has adapted a strategy of quality publishing,” Pearl said. “Basic has a rich heritage and a strong future, and I know we can give their imprint the focus and attention that it deserves. This support, coupled with the sales and distribution power of HarperCollins, will give Basic the best of both worlds.”

The news comes on the heels of HarperCollins parent company News Corp. announcing that it was taking a $270 million one-time charge to reflect HC’s restructuring plans. At that time, HarperCollins president Anthea Disney said the company had decided to “focus its publishing efforts on a defined number of strategic areas” that did not include such mid-list, high-brow fare as Basic Books, which earlier had been folded into HC’s adult trade division.

Although transition details still are being finalized, Basic will publish the remaining books on the fall list under the aegis of HarperCollins. HC also stated that there would be no layoffs or title cuts at the house as a result of the sale of Basic.

Perseus, a subsidiary of D.C.-based Perseus Capital, also announced the establishment of Civitas Books, a publisher of books dealing with African-American culture and race issues. Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of the department of Afro-American Studies at Harvard, will serve in an advisory role as editorial director of Civitas Books.

Perseus’ other divisions include the literary imprint Counterpoint, with Jack Shoemaker at the helm; and the recently launched nonfiction press Public Affairs, run by Peter Osnos.

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