ViacomCBS announced Wednesday that it would sell publishing company Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, in a deal worth nearly $2.18 billion
The transaction is expected to close in 2021.
The deal comes after ViacomCBS put the global publisher up for auction, a move it made to divest noncore assets from its company. Proceeds from the deal will be put toward ViacomCBS' streaming business, fund its dividend and pay down debt. The company also recently sold CNET for $500 million as part of this strategy.
Steaming has become a particularly important avenue for media companies as coronavirus cases have risen and traditional entertainment outlets like movie theaters and theme parks are largely closed to the public or viewed as unsafe destinations.
With Simon & Schuster as part of the company, Bertelsmann's publishing empire will account for about a third of all books sold in the U.S. The deal would put some of the world's bestselling authors including John Grisham, Bob Woodward, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen King under the same corporate umbrella.
Simon & Schuster will continue to be managed as a separate publishing unit under Penguin Random House. Jonathan Karp, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, alongside Dennis Eulau, who acts as chief operating officer and chief financial officer for the company, will continue to helm the publishing company.
The deal could draw attention from the U.S. Justice Department, as the combined shares of Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House are large enough to dredge up antitrust concerns.
Through Oct. 24, Penguin Random House accounted for around 25% of all print books sold in the U.S. Simon & Schuster accounted for about 9.1%, according to market researcher NPD Group. With Simon & Schuster as part of its portfolio, Bertelsmann's U.S. market share would jump to around 34%. The second-largest publisher, HarperCollins, comparatively accounts for around 11% of books sold in the U.S.
Since Simon & Schuster has a market share below 20%, the deal would be approvable, Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe told reporters, according to multiple media accounts.
"There is clearly no market logic to a bid of that size — only anti-market logic," News Corp CEO Robert Thomson statement on the sale. "Bertelsmann is not just buying a book publisher, but buying market dominance as a book behemoth. Distributors, retailers, authors and readers would be paying for this proposed deal for a very long time to come."
News Corp, which owns publisher HarperCollins, was one of the companies bidding on Simon & Schuster.
"This literary leviathan would have 70 percent of the U.S. Literary and General Fiction market," he said. "There will certainly be legal books written about this deal, though I wonder if Bertelsmann would publish them."
Book sales have been particularly robust this year as the coronavirus pandemic has limited other entertainment options. There is also a strong interest in political memoirs and books on social justice. In the nine-month period ended Oct. 3, print book sales rose 6.4% from the prior year, according to data from NPD BookScan.