It looks like the Big Five is about to become the Not-So-Big-Four.
Variety reports that ViacomCBS (or whatever they are calling themselves today) is considering a sale of its book publishing unit.
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.
PW reports that S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy confirmed the potential sale in a letter to staff. The letter did not include much in the way of addition detail, however.
This does not come as a surprise. Simon and Schuster is not technically the smallest of the "Big Five" US trade publishers, but it is the most vulnerable. The other four are either significantly larger in their own right or part of larger international publishing conglomerates (Macmillan is owned by Holtzbrink, Hachette is owned by Legardere Publishing, HarperCollins is twice the size of S&S, and PRH is PRH).
In fact, I would have described S&S as the most likely candidate to be bought by Amazon when it looked like the retailer wanted to take a bite out of the industry, and for years now the only thing stopping Legardere, PRH, or Holtzbrink from buying S&S was that CBS didn't want to sell.
That has apparently changed, and soon so could the ownership of S&S.
Who do you think is going to buy them?
It's hard to guess who will, but I would bet that I can name the one company that will not.
I know that most will assume that Amazon is the leading candidate, but as I see it Amazon already gets enough shit from the publishing industry, and it doesn't need even more regulatory oversight. S&S doesn't have enough revenue to make the headaches worth it, so Amazon is probably going to pass.
Do you think Bezos might buy it?