Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thomson and Harcourt Reunited Again?

There was an interesting suggestion doing the rounds in London this week (Reuters) suggesting that the prospects for Thomson Learning and Harcourt Education would be better if the businesses were combined by one purchaser. The discussion started in an article in the UK Sunday Telegraph which pointed out that the businesses were once part of the same operating company and that at least two of the private equity groups looking at these companies are looking at both of them.
Thomson Learning and Harcourt were part of the same group until 2000, when Harcourt General was bought by Reed. Reed kept the school textbook and testing division and Harcourt's science and medical titles but sold the higher education arm to Thomson Corporation, the Canadian publisher.

The combination could result in additional competition for Pearson and McGraw Hill which retain both School and Higher Ed businesses. While the school and college businesses operate in definably different environments and are generally managed separately within the larger organizations, the scale opportunities could generate millions in additional operating profit were the businesses combined. Coupled with the imperative to create digital delivery platforms for their content and this combination may make some sense.

It will be interesting to see the strategy employed by the bidders. The Thomson auction is expected to be completed first but would one firm try to preempt the bid process for Harcourt to secure that company in advance of the Thomson process? Having secured Thomson, will Reed benefit financially if the sale price for Harcourt contains some 'combination' bonus based on savings the purchaser expects to receive with a combined business? Regardless, it will be a long while until the opportunity to combine two educational publishers of this size comes again so I suspect some pencils are being sharpened as we speak.

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