Friday, 22 February 2013

Merger mania in the publishing business

A few years ago a friend of mine, an academic, as usual put his book on his students' reading list. The bookshop on campus, Blackwells, reported that the book was unavailable. Nonsense, said my friend. Nobody from the publisher had been in touch with him, so he rang the publisher, Hutchinson. Hutchinson had just split its list, selling the fiction to Random House, now owned by Bertelsmann and recently merged with Penguin. But his book was not fiction, and the non-fiction, and educational side had been sold to Allen and Unwin. A & U was busy acquiring at the time and had also just bought the educational publisher Bell & Human. But they only really wanted the school side of the list, selling the rest to HarperCollins. Mr Murdoch, however, did not want the university non-fiction and sold that part of the list to Routledge, which shortly became part of the International Thompson Publishing Services group, before being swallowed by Taylor & Francis, an academic publishing house who made money on scientific, medical and technical books and by running conferences. My friend's book was sold to Blackwells, then the publishing arm of the bookshop chain by the same name - who had, you will remember, told my friend's students they could not trace the book.
I may have missed out a step or two to shorten the story, but it took my friend a year and a half, with the support of the Society of Authors, just to find out who he should now be dealing with.
This is not a new story, but a good example of how people's intellectual property can be bought and sold, long-standing firms disappear and of course along the way editors, packers and proof-readers get their P45s.

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