Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is making a play for Simon & Schuster, the venerable home to bestselling authors such as Stephen King and Hillary Clinton that raised a ruckus this year after releasing a string of hit titles critical of President Donald Trump.
The powerhouse publisher was put up for sale by its owner, ViacomCBS, in March, and the company has since fielded more than half a dozen inquiries, according to three people familiar with the process who declined to be named because the matter remains confidential.
In addition to News Corp., which already owns HarperCollins, a leading bidder is Penguin Random House, according to the people. Penguin Random House, the largest U.S. book publisher, is owned by German media giant Bertelsmann. French firm Vivendi, a minority owner of Hachette through the publisher Lagardere, has also made a bid.
At least one of the offers has topped $1.7 billion, far above the minimum ViacomCBS had set, according to two of the people. Several financial firms, after lobbing offers below that range, are no longer in the running. Final bids are due before Thanksgiving, and ViacomCBS could announce a winner some time after that. A deal may not materialize.
ViacomCBS, the newly merged conglomerate led by Shari Redstone, declined to comment. News Corp. and Vivendi also had no comment. Bertelsmann would not address Simon & Schuster in particular, but a spokesman said, "We have stated in the past that Penguin Random House wants to grow organically and through M&A [mergers and acquisitions]."
Simon & Schuster, one of the five largest book publishers in the country, has a deep bench of name-brand writers, including children's author Judy Blume, novelist Annie Proulx and journalist and historian Walter Isaacson. It also has several perennial bestsellers, including "Catch-22," by Joseph Heller; "Gone With the Wind," by Margaret Mitchell; and "How to Win Friends and Influence People," by Dale Carnegie.
Publishing has become a winner-takes-all business, a circumstance brought on by Amazon's aggressive pricing, and now a publisher needs size to survive. Tent-pole titles can better offset losses from weaker books. A bigger inventory can generate more data on the habits and interests of book buyers.