on Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity:
Publishing has gone through a great many upheavals over the past few decades. There has been an increasing consolidation of publishing houses into the Big 4, which used to be the Big 5, and before that Big 7, etc. And with Random House’s merger with Penguin, there was speculation that soon there would only be the Big 1. But mergers and monopolies aren’t the only trend on the horizon. The increasing acquisition of publishing houses by private equity firms is another disturbing development.
In an article posted in Publishers Weekly, Gary Gentel bemoans the demise of Houghton Mifflin. Gentel, who was president of the HMH trade division from 2007 to 2016, traces the trajectory of the purchase of Houghton Mifflin by Riverdeep Holdings, which then purchased Harcourt Education and created Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which in turn led to the eventual cash purchase of Scholastic’s EdTech business by HMH, which created HMH Books and Media (Trade), which was then sold again. HMH, which doesn’t really exist anymore as a publishing house, is now focused entirely on digital sales to grades K – 12.
So, why is this a problem? After all, mergers and acquisitions are not a new phenomenon.