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Bowker for Sale, All or in Parts
Posted On March 5, 2001
Reed Elsevier plans to sell off several of its major reference publishing operations, specifically Bowker (, Bowker U.K., D.W. Thorpe, Marquis Who's Who, and the smaller reference publications of National Register Publishing Directories. At present, executives hope the company can sell the operations as units, but if not, it will sell specific products. According to John Lawler, president and CEO of Reed Elsevier New Providence (, the move represents Reed Elsevier's intent to "focus on four major markets: scientific, legal, business-to-business, and education."

The divestiture encompasses those entities mentioned above. Andrew Meyer, Reed Elsevier's vice president of administration, told me that not all the publications of these operating units will be sold. Reed Elsevier plans to hold on to such prominent advertising directories as the Advertising Red Books, the Directory of Corporate Affiliations, and America's Corporate Finance Directory. Smaller directories from the National Register, such as the Official Catholic Directory, will be sold off. Reed Elsevier will also retain Marquis' Official American Board of Medical Specialties directory and Bowker's Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook. The yearbook will return to Cahners, the Reed Elsevier subsidiary that publishes the Broadcasting and Cable trade press periodical and to which R.R. Bowker reports. Cahners had apparently handed over the publication of the yearbook directory since it suited Bowker's capability as a reference publisher better than Cahners, which specializes in the production of periodicals.

All of Bowker's prominent library products will go with the sale, including Books In Print, Literary Marketplace, and the American Library Directory. (Reed Elsevier had originally purchased Bowker in August 1985.) The sale will be handled by Berkery, Noyes and Co. ( in New York. Berkery, Noyes has handled other major publication divestitures and acquisitions, including the divestiture of Springfield Corp. by Reed Elsevier to Wolters Kluwer, the sale of Mayfield Publishing to McGraw-Hill, and the acquisition of K.G. Saur Verlag by Thomson.

Lawler indicated that the sale would enhance Reed Elsevier's "aggressive growth policy of both new product development and acquisitions." Reed Elsevier's annual report for 2000 showed that its new management is having a positive effect. The company has announced profits exceeding original expectations, reaching 9 percent in 2000 (up from 3 percent in 1999). By next year, it hopes to be back to double-digit profit-making. The revamp also involved significant Internet investment throughout 2000, according to the financial report.

Although this move by Reed Elsevier would seem to indicate a turn away from the library market, a source at Cahners informed me that both official policy and the flow of internal-developments funds indicate full commitment to its premier library publications—Library Journal, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. In fact, it intends to launch a portal service connecting the sources soon.

Bowker's sales of some of its most prominent library publications have declined recently. More and more librarians—like more and more real people—use Amazon's catalog. Amazon's affiliates program reaches out through many library OPAC catalogs on the Web. However, one expert in the field considered that smart management of Bowker could repackage and expand its reach using the Web. Bowker still has much broader coverage than any competitor. Its Books In Print covers 3.4 million titles with the global version bringing the count up to 5 million. Web booksellers—major or occasional—always love to boast of having a larger invisible inventory.

One logical candidate for a purchaser would be the ever-voracious Thomson Corp., specifically its Gale Group division, which owns Gale Research, the other major library reference publisher. Well-placed sources at Gale Group dutifully informed me that Thomson never comments on possible acquisitions, but assured me equally that if reference products were involved, Gale would be in the game. Gale Group already has negotiated with Marquis Who's Who for biographical data for use in its own biographical database products. Marquis, too, is on the block. [Editor's Note: For more on this, see Barbara Quint's other March 5, 2001 NewsBreak.]

Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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