Hachette Livre chairman and c.e.o. Arnaud Nourry has said he does not regret not bidding for Simon & Schuster, even though he had been looking at the possibility of acquiring the company for 15 years.
“We were very cautious,” he said in an interview with newspaper Le Monde this week. He has no regrets at missing out on the acquisition, made by Bertelsmann at the end of last year, because “I would never have recommended” buying the publisher for the selling price of €1.8bn ($2.2bn).
As the world’s third largest book publisher, Nourry sees no point in becoming number one or two. “Obesity is not a strategic objective.” Instead the aim is to acquire more publishing ventures at reasonable prices to “strengthen and complete” its range of activities, he said.
Nourry’s goal is for Hachette to become “the most attractive international publishing group” with the most far-flung presence. It now generates 70% of its sales abroad, which “paid off magnificently in 2020 thanks to the very strong resilience of Anglo-Saxon countries, with bestsellers such as Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher and Stephenie Meyer’s Midnight Sun and the strength of digital formats.” Diversification is also playing its part. More than 25% of sales come from audio and digital books, boxed sets, part works and board games.
Looking ahead, the group must help reverse the decline in reading in developed countries, he said. People continue to devote more time to social networks, series and games. “Above all, we must be more in tune with social, racial and lifestyle diversity in France to attract the 30% of people who never read.” Young people lose the taste for books at the age of 13 or 14, and one remedy is new brands with new voices, such as Dialogue Books in the UK and Legacy Lit in the US.
In the wide-ranging interview, Nourry also reiterated his opposition to Hachette being carved up by the shareholders of parent company Lagardère. He stressed that the group’s size had enabled it to fight back against Google and Amazon in various legal battles and that “everyone was happy that we had the international dimension” to be able do so. The aim was for Hachette to remain in the Lagardère group, but “if that couldn’t be the case... I would be very attentive to ensuring that the culture and integrity of the group be respected.”
Reports had suggested that Arnaud Lagardère’s ally LVMH chief Bernard Arnault and rival Vivendi chief Vincent Bolloré were negotiating to break up the group. Last November, BFM TV reported that talks about hiving off Hachette’s overseas publishing interests to Vivendi and leaving its domestic interests intact had been under way for several weeks.
Asked about the request from Sophie Stabile, Lagardère’s new financial director, to increase Hachette Livre’s profitability from 12%, Nourry noted that different publishing sectors achieve different levels of profitability, and that Hachette “does not compare unfavourably with its competitors". It weathered the storm of 2020 partly by “mastering costs and preserving (its) creative potential,” he added.