ViacomCBS is preparing to sell its venerable publishing unit, Simon & Schuster, as the company re-evaluates all its assets in a fast-changing business landscape.
ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish told investors Wednesday that the company is taking a hard look at all operations. Simon & Schuster has generated inquiries from prospective buyers in the past, Bakish said during a Q&A held as part of Morgan Stanley’s annual investor conference in San Francisco.
Simon & Schuster “is not a core asset. It is not video-based. It does not have significant connection for our broader business,” Bakish said. “We have had multiple unsolicited inbound calls about that asset, and so as the market stabilizes, we are going to engage in a process” to examine strategic alternatives. ViacomCBS said publishing revenue in 2019 came to $814 million, down 1.3% from $825 million in the prior year.
Since merging in late 2019, ViacomCBS has examined whether all of its businesses fit well as the company places more emphasis on streaming video and reaching TV viewers in new ways. Already, the company is working to sell Black Rock, the Eero Saarien-designed skyscraper that served as headquarters to CBS Corp. since opening in 1965. Baskish said the company is in talks with “a set of blue-chip buyers who are engaged in the process,” which he expects to wrap this year. Research firm MoffettNathanson has pegged the value of Simon & Schuster at $1 billion to $1.5 billion.
In a memo to staffers Wednesday, Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said that the publishing house has “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 perenially favorite titles.’
The publisher’s top authors include the prolific Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark and the unit has in the past served as a sort of ersatz content pipeline to CBS. Some S&S authors were notable enough to warrant coverage by CBS News properties such as “60 Minutes.” Carolyn Reidy has served as president-CEO since January 2008.
Simon & Schuster has been part of ViacomCBS’ predecessor companies since 1975. The publishing company was founded in 1924 by Richard Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster,and went through numerous iterations before it was sold in 1975 to Gulf + Western, which was then the parent company of Paramount Pictures. Sumner Redstone’s Viacom took over Simon & Schuster as part of its 1994 acquisition of Paramount Communications. Simon & Schuster moved to CBS Corp. in 2006 when Viacom and CBS Corp. were split into to separate companies by Redstone (who acquired CBS in 2000).