HarperCollins purchases Thomas Nelson — Eight Predictions

Well, this is a big development in publishing, perhaps the biggest in the last five years, not counting the bankruptcy and liquidation of Borders.

HarperCollins is buying the #1 Christian publisher in the world, Thomas Nelson, Inc. The interesting thing is that HarperCollins already owns the #2 Christian publisher, Zondervan, which they purchased in 1988.

Because of this purchase, which will close before the end of the year, there has been a lot of speculation about how it will happen and what the end result will be. Here are the facts that I have gathered:

  • Both the names Zondervan and Thomas Nelson will continue to exist. This makes sense because both names have a long history within Christian publishing and are well known.
  • Both Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Nashville, Tennessee will continue as company locations. This is important so that no one is forced to move to keep their job and will provide the easiest merger.

Beyond that, it is anyone’s guess. So, in the spirit of guessing, here are my predictions, which are based the experience of being in the corporate world for the last 22 years.

(NOTE: Now that the merger has taken place, the following guesses turned out to be wrong initially, but correct in the long term. HarperCollins has merged Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, naming the new company HarperCollins Christian Publishing, but retaining the original companies’ names as imprints. Another thing to note is that when I made these predictions, I was not, at the time, a signed Zondervan author, although I did become one in April of 2012. My first novel, MERLIN’S BLADE will be coming out April 16th 2013.

  1. HarperCollins will want to keep Thomas Nelson as a wholly owned subsidiary and not absorb it into the parent publishing company. This makes the most sense with how they bought Zondervan.
  2. Like all corporations, I would guess that HarperCollins wants to save money. This will mean the elimination of duplicate services. The best way to do this is to merge Thomas Nelson with Zondervan.
  3. The merging of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan will take place immediately during the closing of the sale. That means within two months. That’s fast, isn’t it? To me, it makes the most sense.
  4. The merger will take place by giving Zondervan a huge chunk of money which will then allow it to purchase Thomas Nelson. Why buy it, and then merge it later? It is much simpler just to do it right away. This is exactly how the company I work for was bought by a much larger company. The big company gave one of their subsidiaries the money to purchase us.
  5. All of Thomas Nelson’s human resources and benefits will come from Zondervan, and Thomas Nelson employees will be put on their health, 401k, life insurance, and dental plans. This will result in lots of meetings, lots of paperwork, and lots of flying back and forth. This happened to me two years ago.
  6. Because of this, it will feel to Thomas Nelson, more than anything, that Zondervan bought them out. Zondervan might get a new name to reflect the new makeup of the company, but maybe it won’t. either way, “Zondervan” and “Thomas Nelson” will become imprints of Zondervan, the parent company.
  7. Other than that, the merging of the day to day business practices of the companies will take place later. This will involve LOTS of changes, including leadership simplification, the slimming down of duplicate services, authors being moved around as sections of the business are organized, etc.
  8. I predict that all the current editors at both companies find a new “normal” and that all of them retain their jobs. A publisher only makes money by publishing books, and I doubt it is HarperCollins goal to reduce the number of books published.

So … there are lots of changes ahead in the publishing world. No doubt HarperCollins will see a lot of benefits to their bottom line. Hopefully any employees lost in the shuffle will find a nice place to land. Hopefully all the current authors, including those in the process of negotiating and signing contracts, will encounter smooth sailing.

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2 thoughts on “HarperCollins purchases Thomas Nelson — Eight Predictions

  • The big question is – will the messaging of the Christian companies change now that they’re owned by a secular one? Will HarperCollin’s be changing the stand on, Sin, God, JEsus, etc to try and conform these companies to the eyes of the world? Just like how NBC changed much of the messaging of Veggie Tales once they owned them to make it soft serve Christianity.

    This is always my fear when I see secular, worldly companies buying and owning Christian companies. How far off track will they take it for sake of being PC and sales.

  • Tadd,

    HarperCollins has owned Zondervan for 23 years, and from everything I can tell, they have kept a hands-off attitude. Zondervan seems to be able to publish whomever and whatever they want, without interference. I would expect that HarperCollins will have the same attitude toward Thomas Nelson.

    If these companies drift, it will be more likely because of drift within their Christian markets than from interference. May we all hold fast to the truth!

    -Robert

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