Mayer's Duckworth sold to Prelude for undisclosed sum

Mayer's Duckworth sold to Prelude for undisclosed sum

The “majority of publishing assets” of the late Peter Mayer’s company Duckworth have been acquired by independent Prelude Books for an undisclosed sum.

The new Duckworth imprint will publish around 20 books a year with Prelude, focusing on popular science, memoir, history and psychology, with the most senior Duckworth employee transferring across and the remaining three employees leaving by agreement, Prelude’s publisher Pete Duncan told The Bookseller.

The sale coincides with the sale of Mayer's American publishing house Overlook Press to illustrated book publisher Abrams, announced yesterday.

Duckworth, whose authors include Ray Kurzweil, Julia Child, John Bayley, Iris Murdoch and Max Brooks, was originally founded 120 years ago, and was bought by Mayer in 2003. Mayer, who was also a former c.e.o. of Penguin, died in May at the age of 82.

Prelude will take over publication of the “substantial portion of Duckworth titles” as part of the “majority publishing assets” effective immediately as part of the acquisition as well as the Duckworth name, website and social media, although the exact number of titles involved has not been disclosed. Duckworth will become “an important and growing” imprint non-fiction of Prelude Books sitting alongside current imprints Prelude and Farrago which focus on non-fiction and humorous fiction respectively.

Head of trade sales Matt Casbourne will also join Prelude Books from Duckworth, reporting to Duncan. The Duckworth imprint’s operations will continue in its current Shoreditch office for the short term before Casbourne transfers to Prelude’s office in Richmond on September 1st. Duncan told The Bookseller that the remaining three staff are leaving by agreement, with a number of Duckworth freelancers to continue working for Prelude.

Founded in 2016, Prelude Books combines leading-edge digital marketing for its fiction imprint Farrago, billed as "fiction to make you smile" with traditional trade representation for its non-fiction. It also represents educational imprint The School of Life to the booktrade.

Duncan said: ‘We are thrilled to welcome Duckworth to Prelude Books, and I am especially pleased that Matt will play an enlarged role in championing the list to the trade. We aim to grow the nonfiction in particular; as well unique authors like Max Brooks. Peter Mayer did so much for UK publishing, before building the present-day Duckworth list, that it feels an honour to be in this position."

Duncan, who first met Mayer around four years ago while he was consulting for Little, Brown, told The Bookseller: “Because it is Peter Mayers’ old company, there has been a lot of good will and good nature. Duckworth has a wide and varied list. Within that we are focusing on popular science, memoir, history and psychology. It will become more known for these areas and more focused.”

Tracy Carns, Abrams associate publisher and director of Duckworth said: "Peter Mayer and I were so pleased and proud to be indie publishers in the UK. Owning Duckworth allowed us to work with colleagues, authors, and agents here as part of the UK publishing scene, which we both love. And for Peter it marked a happy return to the place where he made such an enduring mark as the head of Penguin. With an august company like Duckworth, ownership is sometimes stewardship, so I’m now, along with Liese Mayer, pleased to pass the baton to Pete Duncan and Prelude, as they take Duckworth into what is sure to be an exciting future."

Meanwhile, Abrams will take over editorial and marketing operations of US company The Overlook Press this month; sales and distribution will be transferred to Abrams at the end of the press’ current distribution contracts, it was reported by Publishers Weekly. Some current employees of the Overlook Press, including Carns, will make the move to Abrams.

Overlook and Duckworth are both separate companies but opted to both use the name Duckworth Overlook on titles where they licensed rights to each other or shared distribution.