Thursday, March 26, 2009

Springer On the Block

The Guardian is reporting that private equity owners Cinven and Candover are seeking 'strategic advice' from Goldman and UBS with respect to a possible sale of Springer Science. Springer Science and Business Media is the love child of a combination of Springer and Kluwer back in 2003. At the time, it is believed the private equity owners were attempting to roll up several properties (including Informa) in advance of a listing.

Where they are now will be difficult to ascertain. Today, their business could be fairly stable but most executives I speak to who have significant revenues in the academic, library and media segments believe that this coming year and 2010 will represent real tests just to keep revenues from falling off a cliff. Any publisher with 'second tier' products is going to face a torrid time keeping their subscription base. It is the subscription model that has helped many of these publishers weather the storm thusfar; however, this will not last as library and academic funds are slashed.

Candover and Cinven will face a difficult task and if they want £2bn as the Guardian suggests then this will be a big ask. Everyone is familiar with the protracted Reed Business auction that was ultimately abandoned and while this is a different market the example is indicative of the risk-averse nature of the M&A market for media properties.

From the Guardian article:

Rival private equity groups are regarded as the most likely buyers, although the head of one competing venture capital firm said he thought it was unlikely Springer would attract much interest, given the poor short-term prospects for the global economy.

Media companies have also seen their valuations fall in the wake of a global advertising downturn. However, unlike other media groups, many of which are heavily reliant on advertising, Springer has a relatively secure source of revenue. It publishes more than 6,500 new book titles every year and owns 60 publishing houses in about 20 countries in Europe, Asia and North America.

The company employs more than 5,000 people and its British operation, based in Surrey, oversees the publication of 20 journals.

Springer has been (from the outside) fairly innovative with respect to eBook and new publishing models. They were one of the poster children for the Google Book program and professed to have seen impressive sales results from many older titles that they had given up on years before. Perhaps, the eventual buyer will be taking as much a flyer on Springer as they will be on the potential for the wider market to turn around in the short to medium term. Good luck with that.

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