strategy

The Gill Family Takes Full Control Of Gill & Macmillan

Gill   Macmillan   HomeSome of the most interesting news in Irish publishing for some time tripped across my phone line and email inbox last night. The Gill Family has bought out Macmillan’s 50% share of one of Ireland’s largest trade and educational publishers, Gill & Macmillan.

It’s a fascinating move on many fronts. Firstly it’s nice to see such a large element of the Irish trade firmly in local hands, that’s healthy for the Irish industry given how heavily exposed to outside publishers it already is. Secondly it indicates that Macmillan’s strategic interests no longer include holding such a complex position in a joint venture like G&M. Lastly it lays the ground for interesting years ahead as the newly focused Gill (no longer & Macmillan?) faces the challenge of Penguin Random House which controls a large chunk of Irish publishing.


See the full press release below:

RELEASE DATE [ Wednesday 14 August at 10am ]
PRESS RELEASE
Gill family takes full ownership of Gill & Macmillan
The Gill family and Macmillan Science and Education, joint owners of Dublin-based publishing company, Gill & Macmillan, have announced that the Gill family has taken full ownership of the company.

The new ownership structure will have no trading consequences for the business and the Gill family, alongside the company’s Management Team, looks forward to building on its current success. A change in name and branding will take place at a later stage.

Gill & Macmillan was founded forty-five years ago in 1968 when Macmillan acquired an interest in the long-established Irish company, M. H. Gill & Son Ltd. Since then the company has become one of the most prominent book publishing and publishing services companies in Ireland. Publishing educational content for Irish schools and colleges has been a major part of Gill & Macmillan’s activities since its foundation. The company is also Ireland’s largest trade publisher as well as providing distribution services to the majority of the country’s independent publishers.

This development marks the next chapter for the Gill family, whose name has been synonymous with books in Ireland for 180 years, since Michael Henry Gill was appointed printer to Dublin University in 1833. Six generations of the family have now been actively involved in management of the business.

Michael Gill, Chairman of Gill & Macmillan said: “This is a very positive development for the company. Now wholly Irish-owned again and continuing to employ more than 70 talented and energetic people here in Dublin, we are excited by the transformative power and many opportunities and challenges provided by the digital age, both in Ireland and worldwide”.

Annette Thomas, CEO of Macmillan Science and Education, said: “The relationship between Macmillan and Gill has, over many years, been a model partnership of collegiate cooperation and shared business interests in this successful company. Whilst the sale of our 50% holding fits within our greater strategic objectives, we are delighted to maintain the many close friendships which have been forged with our colleagues in Dublin.”

The financial details of the sale have not been disclosed.

-ends-
Contacts:
For Gill:
Teresa Daly, Communications Manager, Dublin, Ireland
+353 (01) 500 9521 / +353 (0) 86 838 3559; tdaly@gillmacmillan.ie
For Macmillan Science and Education:
Sarah MacDonald, Group External Communications, London, UK
+44 (0)20 7833 5672 / +44 (0)7714 916798; sarah.macdonald@macmillan.com
Notes for Editors:

About Macmillan Science and Education
Macmillan Science and Education, part of the Holzbrinck Publishing Group, is home to the Macmillan businesses which empower those with curious minds to achieve great things. Through the provision of high-quality content and services to scientists, educationalists, students and academics around the world, Macmillan is changing the way students learn, teachers teach and scientists discover. Operating in over 50 countries with some 5000 employees, the division consists of Nature Publishing Group (NPG), Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education, Macmillan Higher Education, Digital Science, Digital Education and Macmillan New Ventures. For more information, please see http://www.learndiscover.com.

About Gill
Gill & Macmillan is the most prominent book publishing company in Ireland. Drawing on more than one hundred previous years of tradition and experience, Gill & Macmillan publishes educational content for primary and secondary schools as well text books for university, college and further-education courses. Its trade division publishes widely in history, politics, current affairs, sport, entertainment and lifestyle. The company has met the emergence of digital communication by providing e-book versions its bestselling titles alongside a rapidly evolving range of digital resources and tools for teachers and students. The company also provides a comprehensive distribution service for the majority of independent Irish trade publishers. For more information, please see http://www.gillmacmillan.ie.

Amazon & Goodreads

There’s been a lot said about Amazon’s latest move, the decision to buy Goodreads.

While I agree that Amazon has made a very sensible move in acquiring the company, it seems to be a far more strategic and defensive acquisition than anything else. The real value of the deal is in what it prevents rather than in what it enables.

All the talk about the data gained seems a little misplaced to me. Amazon, after all, has considerably more and better data on readers and via Kindle is getting even more as time goes on. Where Goodreads has only the expressed opinions and posted libraries of its users, Amazon has real sales and purchases and, increasingly, real reading data on readers not to mention reader class, book and book class level. No-one else comes close to that.

What the purchase does do though is prevent a valuable commodity from becoming a weakness in the future in the hands of a rival. In fact, almost all of Amazon’s acquisitions in the book space have been quite successful at keeping reader preferences and expressed opinion data at the global or non-publisher specific level from the hands of others. In many ways its minority interest in LibraryThing prevents a publisher from getting involved there too (I like LibraryThing and have a lifetime account).

So Amazon has gained a little but prevented a lot by removing yet another data-set from the hands of its rivals, whether it takes advantage of this data-set or not, it at least ensures that its rivals are considerably less data empowered than it itself is.

How Capital Is Behind Large Publishing Mergers

One of the least explored and analysed questions of the Random House/Penguin merger is why? Why did these two giant publishers feel combining and increasing their scale was so important? Because scale is the key to understanding the merger, just not the scale you think.

Scale is not always good, at a certain point scale can actually create its own problems, especially when scale attracts regulatory attention and increased oversight. Scale also creates management problems and scale created through mergers offers the possibility of management turf fights as rival teams deal with the inevitable right-sizing of the new combined entity. So why merge at all? What scale was being sought?

To Battle The Tech Giants

The most regular suggestion offered was that the companies wished to brace for the forthcoming battles with tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google and others. I find this somewhat plausible but not really convincing, any alliance between publishers would still be in the ha’penny place with regards to those giants.

Even more though I think publishers are not in Amazon’s business (despite Amazon’s efforts to in fact be in everyone’s itself which you can take seriously or treat as a very clever distraction tactic), nor Apple’s, nor Google’s nor do they have the resources internally to be in those businesses. Barnes & Noble have shown us just recently what happens when you try to compete in a business you don’t know, it can be costly even when you do it very, very well. So scaling to compete in a field you don’t really have skill or abilities for would be exceptionally foolish.

To Save Money

Another possibility floated was that by combining they could make savings and that has more justification  Sales teams will surely be slimmed down where there is duplication, IT infrastructure can surely be streamlined and cost savings made. All that has value, but equally the risk of not being able to carry off those savings, of instead finding it difficult and failing is pretty high. Many a merger has fallen down on the lack of delivery on the promise. I think if they merged just for savings then the merger will probably be a disappointment.

Where does that leave us? Well we know, from subsequent actions, that Pearson was keen to move further into educational publishing and services and keen to shift its trade publishing assets. I wrote about this urge some time ago. That explains one side of the deal, but not the other and even then we might expect Pearson to seek the highest bidder rather than a merger or alliance. Still not getting very far along the road, are we?

Assume Intelligence

Let’s assume that the leadership at Random House and Penguin (or Bertelsmann and Pearson) are smart capable folks who can to some extent look at the future trends and sense where their industry might be going. One important aspect of those trends is for content that plays well across platforms. Not just a book, but an app that does something interesting maybe even a casual game based on the book and, if everything looks right, a movie.

The cost of developing such content (at that point intellectual property or IP is probably a better term) is dramatically higher than the cost of publishing books. Developers, designers, producers and a host of other skilled and expensive staff are required just to get the IP to market in salable form. This is not an attack on editors or narrative books in general, just that on average the cost of developing a book is predictable within a certain range. Obviously some books are more expensive than others but few require the scale of investment a well thought through app or game requires.

Combined with this rising cost of creation, the cost of acquiring content from authors, as I mentioned earlier in the week, is increasing especially for those with proven market power. The more likely a property or an author’s work is to translate across platforms, the more expensive it is likely to be.

Marketing To Everyone

Finally in cost terms, marketing across platforms is also expensive. This is a double pronged problem. On the one hand different platforms have different demands for marketing and different costs too. What works for a book will not always work for an app or a game. The second problem is that the cost of production being higher means that revenue expectations for a product will be higher too, hence the audience required to generate that revenue is larger meaning that niches probably won’t suffice(1) and marketing to a wider audience becomes much more important.

These kinds of projects can have lucrative pay-offs when they strike the big time. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga and Fifty Shades of Grey have all moved beyond being simple books and into the realm of media franchises each with a different set of products on offer.

While I don’t yet have the evidence of it, I believe that these franchises are but the early examples of the trend towards bigger and more lucrative hits that will see publishing become an even more hit driven business than it currently is*.

If I’m correct about this shift I expect to see large publishers shedding distractions and concentrating more on their top brands or their brands with the most potential (occasionally producing titles/IP with prestige status). I’ve written before about the kinds of changes publishers must make and as Mike Shatzkin writes, they are beginning to make those changes:

Both Hyperion and Wiley are showing us what the publisher of the near future is going to look like. They will be more focused. They will be shedding overheads so they can expand or shrink their offerings more readily to respond to opportunities and circumstances. They will be less dependant on the trade bookstore and book review trade networks. And Hyperion’s decision says something more about the future that Wiley’s doesn’t: book publishing will increasingly be an activity operating in tandem with or in service of other objectives of the owning organization.

But how does this relate to the merger? The biggest and most obvious demand that the increased costs suggests to me is for a significantly larger capital base to secure, fund, manage and protect IP projects that require much larger creation and marketing costs. Seen in that light the Penguin/Random House deal is not a defensive move designed to protect publishing from the technology sector but an offensive move that places the new entity as a leader of equal if not larger scale to the movie studios like Sony, Time Warner, Disney, NBC/Universal and the like.

Transmedia Takes Capital

As transmedia and cross-platform content becomes more important the real rivals of publishers are not the platforms that enable them to reach their customers** but the creators of content which might be chosen by those very consumers in the place of their own. In short the book publishing industry is facing convergence with other forms driven by digital distribution and consumption.

In that world, where all content is now in competition with all other content, publishers need to increase their firepower to enable them to acquire, create and market the best content they can and in so doing enable them to charge the highest price they can, all the time facing down their rivals trying their damnedest from the other direction.

That to me explains why Penguin and Random have chosen to combine. In short, it’s all about the money, but for investing in projects rather than profit (that will come later when they get some hits). I fully expect other publishers to do the same, we might even seen publishers combine with other major content creators be they games developers, movie studios,  I could be wrong of course, but I hope I’m right.

Money
AttributionShare AlikeSome rights reserved by 401(K) 2013

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(1) To be clear, I don’t rule out the viability of certain niches, nor the ability of some publishers to thrive as more modest sized entities publishing across several different niches or indeed solely focused on a single niche, but this piece is about larger publishers.

* With the obvious caveat that not all books will be hits and not all writers and publishers will be able to compete in that pace. But that’s okay, some writers and some publishers will make a decent living in the space below, perhaps many perhaps few, that is yet to be determined.

** Of which I have long believed anyway there is only one, The Internet!

Go Read This | Dancing with Myself — The Principal Impediment to Change and Innovation « The Scholarly Kitchen

All good this, and by my lights the first must read of 2013 for the publishing community:

One form this organizational blindness takes is the tracking of the wrong metrics. By “wrong” I mean measurements that tend to support current activity without providing a different and perhaps unflattering perspective. A university press director proudly told me about his system of peer review, the number of outside reviewers, how carefully these reviews were themselves assessed, and how the reviews were used by authors to improve their books. Nice job. But the same director failed to note that sales of the press’s books had declined by more than a third in the past decade, and that financial support from the parent institution was wavering. “Have you considered the possibility that you are publishing the wrong books, that you are working in fields that are not growing and may even be declining,” I asked. He was taken aback by my question. After all, the peer review results said the press was doing a great job.

Examples of tracking the wrong things, or at least of failing to track some important things, can be found everywhere. I encountered one management team that boasted of their profit margins. But the same team had failed to adjust their sales reports for inflation. Thus, over a period of about 15 years, this team had in fact been putting the company through a long-term liquidation.

via Dancing with Myself — The Principal Impediment to Change and Innovation « The Scholarly Kitchen.

Bloomsbury’s Interesting Results

I don’t know why I find Bloomsbury so fascinating, I just do! Maybe it’s because they published the Harry Potter series, maybe it’s their fantastic cookbooks but I think it more likely, given the nerd that I am, that I find their medium to long-term strategy so interesting, this shift away from a reliance on trade towards educational, professional and information based publishing activities.

There is much to ponder in their half-year results but I want to focus on three points, two digital related one not.

Item the first, great sign of the robust nature of the UK digital market, Bloomsbury saw ebooks sales as a percentage of group revenue rise some 66% in terms of group turnover. Without that bounce, the company would have seen an overall drop in top line revenue. I wonder when that might be a problem for them? If print sales do not get a lift but ebook sales continue to rise, when will the revenue problem manifest in that top line revenue figure?

Digital sales mainly comprise ebook sales, which are up by 89% year on year to £4.5 million (2011: £2.4 million). Ebook sales now represent 10% of total Group continuing turnover (2011:  6%) and 15% of the Adult division continuing turnover (2011: 9%).

Item the second, this huge increase has the strange and I would imagine annoying effect of increasing the seasonality of the company’s results! Did we expect this outcome? I guess the answer is to shift reporting seasons to at least exclude January from the second half results?

Ebook sales peak in January and February following the sale of e-reader devices at Christmas and academic sales peak at the beginning of the academic year, in September and October. As these two revenue streams form a higher proportion of total turnover, the proportion of our results accruing in the second half of the financial year increases. 

Item the third, strategy pays off at just the right time. So the children’s division saw a £2.8 million drop in sales! That’s right totally offsetting the gains in ebook sales. What’s more it went from a £0.9 million profit to £0. Yet at the same time the information division delivered in spades.

The division generated 4% of Group continuing sales in the six months ended 31 August 2012 (2011: 4%) and 41% of Group continuing operating profit before highlighted items (2011: 15%). Continuing turnover in the Information division increased by 21% year on year to £1.8 million  (2011: £1.5 million).

Which is a very nice way of say that the margins on this end of the business are totally insane compared to the rest of the business! We know that group profit for the half was £2.1 million and that the Information Division delivered 41% of that or £800,000 give or take. Thus the division had a margin of 44% or so. Diversification and changing the focus away from Trade & Children’s books has saved Bloomsbury’s shareholders from a nasty surprise.

The strategy has worked, and worked well. It’s nice to see in an era when we don’t tend to think of publishers as innovative or rapid actors.