Forty-year-old independent Walker Books has been acquired by global children's content company Trustbridge Global Media, owned by private equity firm Trustbridge Partners.
Before the sale, Walker was majority-owned by trusts for the benefit of the group's own officers and employees.
UK children's trade insiders described the development as "probably a smart move" in a challenging business environment, despite regrets at losing an independent player.
The transaction will provide its companies — consisting of Walker Books UK (London, UK), Candlewick Press (Somerville, MA), Walker Books Australia (Sydney, Australia) and Walker Productions (London, UK) — "with enhanced ability to access new markets". The announcement added that it was also "expected to help accelerate the company’s growth and expansion in publishing and other media".
The approach for the acquisition came from Trustbridge, and was "based on their shared commitment to building quality content for children and Walker’s global reputation". The sale will "strengthen Walker by providing a stronger capital base for expansion while also preserving the culture of the company as an independent and creatively-led organisation", the announcement said, adding: "The group’s business strategy will remain sharply focused on promoting its multiple lists of original, award-winning, and bestselling titles for children and young adults, as well as the development of key franchises and properties via licensing and multimedia development."
No changes to operations are contemplated, and the group will continue to be led by longtime managing director Karen Lotz, with Roger Alexander continuing as non-executive chairman. The Walker Group is expected to remain headquartered in its current office in Vauxhall in London, with its subsidiaries retaining their respective sites as well.
The companies said the transaction was completed on economic terms that had been negotiated ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Trustbridge Global Media has operations in the United States, Europe and China, where its portfolio includes children’s book publishers such as Holiday House and Peachtree Publishing, as well as a series of joint ventures, master licensing agreements and minority investments in a range of businesses engaged in developing and distributing children’s content. It also has interests in digital content, film and other media, and says it is focused on the "creation, development, and distribution of quality literature and entertainment that will endure for generations".
Owner Trustbridge Partners, with offices in Boston, Shanghai and Hong Kong, is a growth equity firm with approximately $8bn under management, which describes itself as "mission-driven" in its approach and with "a deep commitment to making positive change for people by investing in and managing consumer companies relentlessly focused on improving lives."
Vice-chairman of Trustbridge Partners Dan Sullivan said: “We are tremendously excited to be working with Karen Lotz and her colleagues. Walker and Candlewick represent an exceptionally strong strategic fit for TGM, where the highest priority is placed on building children’s content of quality and enduring value for young people around the world.”
Commenting on the transaction, Lotz gave credit to the important traditions of the company and the hard work of its broad base of employees, authors, and illustrators. “For the past 40 years, Walker has charted an independent path into markets around the world under the twin guiding lights of quality and a commitment to the primacy of reading in the lives of children and young adults,” she said. “Now we are looking forward to an exciting new chapter as part of the Trustbridge family. On behalf of our hardworking and devoted staff, as well as our incredibly talented authors and illustrators, the directors and trustees are delighted to know that the future of the company will be supported to its full potential in this generous and compelling way.”
John McLay of Bath Literary Agency told The Bookseller: "If this is what Walker Books needed to secure their future, despite a lot of successful global publishing over 40 years, then they were absolutely right to seek this kind of cash injection and security. It's slightly worrying that a company as large as Walker, with as many big illustrators and authors as they have, did need to do so, however. It demonstrates how tough things are out there. And they'll only get tougher. Although this deal was clearly made before the current pandemic, so too the acquisition of Egmont by HarperCollins, there could be more mergers and acquisitions to follow." He added: "I'm sure Walker will continue to make great books for a long time to come. And the creativity of the children's publishing community demonstrated over the last two months has been staggering. Six to twelve months down the line and beyond, I'm confident a lot of fantastic new books are going to appear."
Agent Caroline Sheldon said: "An independent Walker Books has always been a valued member of the UK children's book publishing community, publishing effectively and often taking a slightly different line to other houses so it will be sad to lose them as the independent UK company Sebastian [Walker] set up 40 years ago. But as an agency we have always valued highly our workings with both Holiday House and Peachtree Publishing who have always felt to us like independents in the US market so Trustbridge Global Media (despite the very un-Sebastian-like name) would seem a good home for this treasured legacy."
Meanwhile bookseller Wayne Winstone of independent Winstone Books commented: "The pressures on cash flow and the European markets have been particularly challenging in recent years, so as sad as it is to see another independent get swallowed up, it's probably a smart move. As a bookseller, we would prefer the romantic idea of a publisher having independent integrity and making its own decisions but business is challenging, so if any injection of cash can protect the company it is probably a smart move to have the backing of a company with deep pockets."