November 21, 2014

Hachette buys Black Dog & Leventhal


Black DogHachette bought Black Dog & Leventhal yesterday. Even your grandparents have been following the Hachette news by now. If you’d call more, they’d tell you about it. Have you been keeping up with the ways the company is expanding?

The press publishes between twenty and thirty titles annually, and will continue to do so under the Hachette umbrella. Michael Pietsch (how does your grandmother pronounce his name over the phone again?) says, “The addition of the BD&L publishing program will enhance our non-fiction and backlist portfolios, important areas of focus for HBG, and will expand our strength in specialty retail stores and museum shops.” Hachette must be looking to break down barriers to other retail outlets (or put them up, as in the new open office plan, har har, dry office humor).

Hachette’s had a big year. About four months ago, the company did not end up buying Perseus after a lot of negotiations and distribution questions from indie publishers. We all assumed it had to do with the Amazon standoff, which was happening at exactly the same moment. All of that ended last week, in the sense that any negotiation with Amazon will ever end. (Ever.)

We can guess Penguin Random‘s merger put pressure on the other Big Five to consolidate, or at least up beef up the number of titles they’re putting out each year. So who will Hachette acquire next?

Hachette US bought the Hyperion backlist, and formed Hachette Books to start acquiring in a similar vein. Hachette UK bought Constable & Robinson in February and Quercus in March. They’re buying a whole lot of small nonfiction publishers with strong backlists.

According to Publishers WeeklyJ.P. Leventhal will continue on as publisher of Black Dog & Leventhal. Two current employees will take on new titles: Rebecca Koh will be editorial director, and Maureen Winter is associate publisher.

With the company, founded in 1993, comes the charming dog colophon. Leventhal told its story this way:

When I was starting up, I had originally thought of calling the company “Black Dog Books.”  Everyone in my family was in publishing or had been.  I was in publishing,  My wife was in publishing.  My two sons were in publishing.  My sisters had been in publishing.  Even my sisters’ ex-husbands had been in publishing.  Only our dog, Tess, was not in publishing, and I therefore thought it fitting to honor her by calling the company “Black Dog Books.” Peter Workman, [our distributor] thought that name was too impersonal and that I should put my name in.  … Our name remained unresolved. Peter and I got together again a few weeks later. On that day it was clear that we should combine Peter’s instinct and mine.

We didn’t have an office dog at the time of the company’s founding (just a whale), but we can appreciate when a bookish dog gets its due. The question I take from this charming anecdote, though, is why didn’t Workman buy Leventhal before Hachette?


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.