March 12, 2014

Will Amazon or Orion buy Quercus?


The Girl with the Amazon Tattoo

The Girl with the Amazon Tattoo

As we reported, Quercus, the independent publisher known for breaking out Stieg Larsson, has been up for sale since January. There’s nothing confirmed about Quercus’s sale, but there’s been a lot of speculation this week that something is about to happen.

Liz Thomson of (in an article later posted without a paywall by PW) reports that of the companies interested in the acquisition, Orion is the most likely. When Mark Smith and Wayne Davies founded Quercus together in 2004, they had been working together in Orion’s custom publishing division, with Smith serving as the managing director and Davies as the publishing director. Orion is owned by Hachette Livre, the second-largest publisher in the world, and may be most interested in Quercus’s backlist.

The other two parties rumored to be interested are Head of Zeus and Amazon. Head of Zeus is unlikely, since Smith and former Zeus CEO Anthony Cheetham left the company “acrimoniously,” according to Thomson.

But would Amazon be interested in buying a small independent publisher like Quercus? Why bother?

Amazon hasn’t had much success getting the fruits of its publishing labor into brick-and-mortar stores. Even under its code name, New Harvest, the books Amazon has published have only mistakenly ended up in places like Barnes and Noble.

There’s that old joke that the best way to end up with a small fortune in publishing is to start with a big one, ha, ha, but Amazon has never been concerned about losing money. (Or particularly interested in books, except that they don’t have to be refrigerated and are a pretty easy way to attract a lot of consumers to share their information and build the habit of ordering from one place on a regular basis, which means they could be the foundation of your empire.) Would Amazon really want to start buying up publishing companies themselves?

Moreover, would Smith and Davies choose to sell their business to Amazon? They have a valuable backlist, but it’s hard to imagine Quercus continuing to publish its usual list under the corporate giant’s ownership.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.