HarperCollins’ Acquisition Of Thomas Nelson Is An Investment In Digital

Heaven Is For Real

HarperCollins is acquiring Christian publisher Thomas Nelson–publisher of the mega-bestselling Heaven Is For Real–for $200 million in a deal that will be finalized by the end of the year. Thomas Nelson has been on the forefront of experimentation with digital publishing, and HarperCollins is buying not just the company but also that digital experience.

Thomas Nelson is a privately held company, based in Nashville, that will now exist under the News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS) umbrella. HarperCollins already has an existing religious imprint, Zondervan, which will continue to publish its own books. While HarperCollins didn’t disclose Thomas Nelson’s sale price, the figure will likely be included in the next News Corp. earnings report. Update: HarperCollins paid $200 million for Thomas Nelson. Note, below, that InterMedia Partners paid $473 million for the company in 2006.

Thomas Nelson has done a bunch of cool things in the digital space. The company’s chairman and former CEO, Michael Hyatt, is an avid blogger with 104,779 Twitter followers. The company bundles free digital and audio editions with the purchase of any print book, and it has its own digital download store including bestselling books, audio, video and children’s materials. This February, it ran a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-like sweepstakes to get readers into bookstores: Shoppers who found randomly placed “On the House” stickers in Thomas Nelson titles they purchased from booksellers across the country won digital prizes like e-readers, iPads and digital downloads.

Thomas Nelson was founded by–you guessed it–Thomas Nelson in Scotland in 1798 and was, apparently, innovative from the start. The company’s website explains:

Within a few years, Thomas began to publish important works such as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and The Vicar of Wakefield in inexpensive editions. Nelson also published the Bible in thirty-two-page installments, enabling people of all classes to access the Word of God much more easily. And he pioneered new distribution methods, selling books at fairs and auctions in town squares across Scotland.

Initially, booksellers balked at selling Nelson’s publications because of his low prices and innovative sales methods. Even so, his growing reputation for integrity and enthusiasm caused his enterprise to flourish.

Fast forward 200 years and private equity firm InterMedia Partners purchased Thomas Nelson for $473 million in 2006, and an investor group led by Kohlberg Ventures purchased a majority of its stock in 2010.

News Corp. is letting HarperCollins go on a bit of a shopping spree this month: Last week it purchased independent publisher Newmarket Press.

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