March 26, 2014

Hodder buys Quercus for £12.6 million


hodderFacebook Hodder & Stoughton, part of Hachette Book Group, has made a bid for indie publisher Quercus for £12.6 million in cash. A deal should be ready by the end of April and finalized in May.

In a way, it’s the best-case scenario for a publisher in dire straights. Quercus will remain a “distinct division” of the company, though employees will move into the Hachette office. The company will have a distinct editorial voice and will continue working with its authors. Quercus includes MacLehose Press, Jo Fletcher Books, and Heron Books.

The Bookseller reports Quercus shareholders will be entitled to receive 60p per share. PW quoted a “former money man” who determined it was a “generous” offer, since shares fell to 50p in early January. It’s less than Quercus had hoped, and it’s nowhere near the size of the deal Facebook made with Oculus, but the shareholders will get out of there with a reasonable sum.

During the Stieg Larsson craze, in January 2010, shares peaked at 152.08p, but the company has been having a rough time since then. The company hit an eleven-year low in 2013, and Quercus went up for sale in January. Rumors circulated that Orion (also part of Hachette), Head of Zeus, or Amazon might be interested.

“[Hachette UK CEO] Tim Hely Hutchinson would do anything to keep Amazon out,” one anonymous agent told PW, but in the end it’s only speculation that Amazon would consider buying an indie publisher. Orion seemed most likely, since Quercus founders Mark Smith and Wayne Davies worked there together before starting a company of their own. No one was talking about Hodder as a possibility, but it’s easy to picture Quercus’s list under that umbrella, and there’s a general consensus in the news that it’s a “good fit.”

In the London Evening Standard, CEO Smith said Quercus was “finding it difficult to get our books in front of consumers,” and that publishers ought to reflect on the “concentration of power within the retailing industry.” With the creation of Penguin Random House, it’s getting tougher for indies to maintain their small corner of the marketplace and to get their books on store shelves.

As we reported, Hachette UK acquired another small publisher earlier this year. Little, Brown Book Group bought Constable & Robinson in February, a few months after publisher Nick Robinson passed away. Last week Little, Brown began consultation and will likely cut about twenty people in sales, marketing, and production. In time, Quercus will probably have to weather some cuts, too.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.