ViacomCBS sells Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House owner for $2.2 billion

November 25, 2020, 4:58 PM UTC

ViacomCBS agreed to sell its Simon & Schuster book publishing business to German media giant Bertelsmann for $2.18 billion, part of the broadcaster’s plan to exit nonstrategic businesses.

The all-cash deal is expected to close next year, Bertelsmann said in a statement Wednesday. The acquisition adds heft to Bertelsmann’s publishing portfolio and fits with plans to expand the company’s Penguin Random House unit. Meanwhile, ViacomCBS sheds a noncore asset as it shifts its focus to streaming.

The closely held German company’s bid beat out News Corp.’s HarperCollins and Vivendi, which were also vying for the asset, people familiar with the matter had said. Simon & Schuster, which has published books by Stephen King and Hillary Clinton, employs around 1,500 people worldwide and generated sales of $814 million in 2019.

Jonathan Karp, chief executive officer of Simon & Schuster, and Dennis Eulau, chief financial officer, will continue in their roles.

News Corp. had warned this month that Bertelsmann could have trouble getting regulatory approval to buy Simon & Schuster as it would create “a serious antitrust issue.”

News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson renewed his objection to the deal in a statement Wednesday. “There is clearly no market logic to a bid of that size—only anti-market logic,” he said. “Bertelsmann is not just buying a book publisher, but buying market dominance as a book behemoth.”

Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe said the company carried out a wide-ranging antitrust analysis before agreeing to the deal, spending “many months intensively looking at whether this deal can be approved.” In a call with reporters, he cited figures from the American Association of Publishers showing the two companies’ combined revenue would amount to less than 20% of the U.S. market.

Rabe added that bigger publishers have lost market share in recent years, while smaller ones have gained. In addition, is playing an ever bigger role in the book industry, both in traditional publishing as well as self-publishing.

Penguin Random House, the dominant U.S. book publisher, had about a 24% share of the U.S. book market last year, while HarperCollins had 11%, according to NPD Bookscan. Simon & Schuster had 9%.

Simon & Schuster books had a high profile in the run-up to the U.S. election with a string of popular political releases about President Donald Trump’s administration, including Bob Woodward’s Rage, John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, and Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. It’s also published books from the president, including Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America.

ViacomCBS shares were down 1.1% to $34.14 at 10:55 a.m. in New York.

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