News Corp clinched a deal to acquire Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s books and media segment for $349 million in cash, planning to combine the publisher with its HarperCollins Publishers subsidiary.
The Rupert Murdoch-controlled company said it expects the deal to close in the second quarter of calendar 2021, subject to to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.
The deal will add more horsepower to the business of HarperCollins, the second-largest consumer book publisher in the world after Bertelsmann’s Penguin Random House — and comes after Bertelsmann inked a pact with ViacomCBS to acquire Simon & Schuster for $2.17 billion.
The HMH Books & Media backlist of more than 7,000 titles include “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and other titles by J.R.R. Tolkien; “1984” and “Animal Farm” by George Orwell; and “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren. HarperCollins currently has rights to Tolkien’s works in the British Commonwealth.
The announcement comes just four days after News Corp said it will buy Investor’s Business Daily, the stock-analysis and investment research publication, for $275 million.
“There is a resurgence in reading and listening to books, and we believe the brilliant HMH Books & Media backlist and first-rate frontlist have an enduring and increasing value,” News Corp CEO Robert Thomson said in a statement. “The HarperCollins collection will be bolstered for children and young adults, and authors around the world will have a larger platform for their creativity and ingenuity. It is crucial to expand in an era in which emerging monopolies threaten the creative marketplace, so we welcome J.R.R. Tolkien, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell and many, many other distinguished writers to HarperCollins.”
In calendar year 2020, HMH Books & Media reported net sales of $191.7 million — over 60% of which were were generated by its backlist — and adjusted earnings of $26.6 million. For the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2020, HarperCollins revenue grew 23% from the year-earlier period, to $102 million, with adjusted earnings up 65% to $41 million.
News Corp said HarperCollins expects to “realize immediate cost savings” with the HMH Books & Media deal, representing more than $20 million annually within two years across manufacturing, distribution and “other cost efficiencies.
“Combining HMH Books & Media’s strong catalog with HarperCollins’s global platform will allow for increased investment in HMH Books & Media’s trade programs and we expect faster growth of the combined companies at a time of rapid growth in book consumption,” Brian Murray, president and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers, said in a statement. “Joining HMH Books & Media’s media productions team and the HarperCollins Children’s global catalog will open up new animation and gaming opportunities as we look to accelerate the expansion of our [intellectual property] across multiple formats.”
HMH Books & Media’s HMH Productions arm is involved in Netflix animated series “Carmen Sandiego,” also set to become a live-action feature film, and has other TV projects in development.
Other titles and series in HMH Books & Media include “The Best American Series,” the “Betty Crocker” and “Better Homes and Gardens” cookbooks and the best-selling “How to Cook Everything” series and “The Whole30” franchise. Franchises in its kids-publishing division include “Curious George,” “Martha Speaks,” “Five Little Monkeys,” “The Polar Express,” the “Little Blue Truck” series, “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,” “The Little Prince” and “Stellaluna.”
Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said the divestiture of its consumer division will let it “focus singularly on K–12 education” while also helping it pay down “a significant portion of its debt.”