News Roundup: The Murdoch News Corp ZonderNelsonCollins Bombshell Edition

Update, 3.15pm, Nov 02, 2011: “It’s business as usual” – response & reflections from Paul Wilkinson, Christian Book Shop Talk, Canada: HarperCollins to Acquire Thomas Nelson

Update, 10.30am, Nov 02, 2011: Follow up report from Christian Retailing, posted 01/11/2011: Thomas Nelson buyout ‘a vote of confidence for the industry’

MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES: the words of an ancient curse; and we in the Christian book and retail trade are certainly living in interesting times today with the growing challenge of digitisation (or should that be digitization?), major realignments within both our own sector and the wider trade, and the ever-shifting sands of the global economy destabilising large and small concerns alike. And the Big News of the Moment is one of those realignments as Thomas Nelson, one the USA’s biggest Christian/Inspirational publishers, looks set to be swallowed up into the abyss of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp alongside HarperCollins and Zondervan:

News breaks via Christian Retailing USA

The news broke via the USA’s Christian Retailing:

HarperCollins to acquire Thomas Nelson
MONDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2011 04:26 PM EDT

HarperCollins Publishers today announced it is to take over Thomas Nelson.

A subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., HarperCollins said in a surprise statement that it had “entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Thomas Nelson Inc. for an undisclosed sum.” The acquisition, which is expected to close by the end of the calendar year, is “subject to regulatory clearances and other customary closing conditions,” the company said.

No details of the terms were disclosed, nor was there any initial indication of how Thomas Nelson will fit under its new owner, also the parent company of Zondervan.

Eddie Olliffe tweets astonishment and concerns

The story was rapidly picked up by the ever-vigilant Eddie Olliffe, who tweeted his astonishment and concerns, kicked off a discussion in the Christian Authors, Booksellers and Publishers facebook group, and located the official HarperCollins Press Release:

The Bookseller fails to note Murdoch connection

Next came the Bookseller, with a brief summary of the official press release but, surprisingly, failing to note the Murdoch connection:

HC acquires Thomas Nelson
01.11.11 | Graeme Neill

HarperCollins has bought US religious publisher Thomas Nelson for an undisclosed sum.

The deal is expected to go through by the end of the year. Thomas Nelson currently publishes the US bestseller Heaven is for Real.

Brian Murray, c.e.o. and president of HarperCollins Worldwide, said: “Founded in 1798 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Thomas Nelson shares a long and rich heritage with both New York’s Harper Brothers and Scotland’s William Collins & Sons. It is thus with great pleasure that I look forward to welcoming Thomas Nelson to the HarperCollins family.”

Christian Marketplace speculates about possible job losses

Hot on the heels of the Bookseller’s report came a Christian Marketplace “Breaking News” ‘e-alert’ with speculation about possible job losses:

HarperCollins to acquire Thomas Nelson

It was announced on 31st October that HarperCollins Publishers has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Thomas Nelson, Inc. for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition, which is expected to close by the end of 2011, is subject to regulatory clearances and other customary closing conditions.

The impact of this impending acquisition on the world of Christian publishing is not yet clear but with both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson part of the HarperCollins/News Corp. family it is likely that some job losses will be inevitable.

Clearly one impact is that Rupert Murdoch now becomes the leading Christian publisher in the world, something which might not sit comforatbly [sic] with some ;people [sic] given News Corp’s. [sic] recent troubles following the ‘phone hacking’ scandal at the now defunct News of the World.

It also brings into the HarperCollins family such authors as Billy Graham, Max Lucado, Brian McLaren and also the current world bestseller ‘Heaven is for Real’ by Todd Burpo.

Eddie Olliffe asks tough questions: Is News Corp a ‘fit and proper’ entity to ‘own’ the Bible?

For the tough questions, however, we return to Eddie Olliffe, who — describing the announcement as “a bombshell” — asks whether News Corp is a ‘Fit and Proper’ entity to ‘own’ the Bible:

Book Trade – is News Corp a ‘Fit and Proper’ entity to ‘own’ the Bible?
November 1, 2011

Last evening, a bombshell exploded in the worldwide book trade with the announcement by HarperCollins in New York of their proposed purchase of Thomas Nelson USA (Publisher of Billy Graham, Max Lucado and the New King James Bible).

This is astonishing. News Corporation already owns Zondervan (the Publisher of the New International Version, on licence from Biblica USA) and HarperCollins (the Publisher of the Good News Bible).

I, for one, am not hugely keen on the news that an ethically discredited NewsCorp may shortly own two major USA Christian publishers; Zondervan & Thomas Nelson; thus – incredibly – making Rupert Murdoch the largest Christian publisher in the world, in control of many of the major English translations of the Bible!

I believe, in the light of the phone-hacking charges here in the UK, that NewsCorp is not a ‘fit and proper’ entity to control such a major percentage of English Bible translations. To me, this is extremely worrying.

As John Duncan said on Facebook today;

‘By my reckoning this now makes HC owners of the companies that produce the NKJV, a large percentage of the KJV (both Nelson and HC), the NCV, the NIV (US editions), the GNB, the ESV (UK editions), and some NRSV – rather a lot of bibles, really’.

Eddie makes a point of indicating his respect for the people he has worked with in the various companies concerned, but nonetheless the question and challenge remains: “this seems to be a really perilous and serious state of affairs.”

  • How should we as individuals — and as a trade — respond?

Reports Elsewhere (most recent first)

6 thoughts on “News Roundup: The Murdoch News Corp ZonderNelsonCollins Bombshell Edition

  1. I think we need to be careful when we ask questions about who is fit and proper to do anything. Otherwise I think most of us would be out of a job! But if the Brewer Brothers have taught us anything it is that we should not lay down and sacrifice ourselves to anyone who offers the asking price.

    • I suspect you’ll find Eddie is using the phrase ‘fit and proper’ quite intentionally in the technical, legal sense in which it was applied, for instance, to the proposed takeover of BSkyB by News Corp. Whether the ‘fit and proper’ test can be applied in a case like this is another question, but it seems to me that we have a moral responsibility to raise the question: to stand back and say no one is worthy so the question shouldn’t be asked is surely to abdicate on that responsibility…

      As for the Brewers, there was no asking price involved: SPCK gifted the whole thing to them in what was I’d say was one of the most shameful abdications of responsibility this trade has ever seen.

  2. Pingback: News Roundup: The it’s-all-been-happening-this-week Edition « The Christian Bookshops Blog

  3. I think it’s important not to tar all of NewsCorp with the same brush here.

    We’re not talking about a Safeway being brought by Morrisons sort of deal here, where all vestiges of the failed company disappear and are rolled into the corporate image and ethos of the new owners, but the change of corporate ownership of a successful company, where likely very little in the day-to-day operation will change.

    Let’s not forget, NewsCorp is not “the voice of Rupert Murdoch” a way for him to preach his personal beliefs, but a company which exists to make money however possible.

    The same company produces the diametrically opposed “Times” and “The Sun”. The same company (under effectively the same “Fox” banner, no less) produces right wing, conservative propaganda like “The O’Reily Factor”, TV Shows like “Family Guy” and movies like “The Omen”.

    As much as we might like to think that Rupert Murdoch is a micromanager who has his finger in each and every thing that NewsCorp does, it is hard to find the single harmonious message of this company.

    While we don’t have details yet, it’s hard to imagine very much would change at all. Nelson, like Zondervan would likely retain a great degree of operational autonomy from HarperCollins. Muedoch or the company as a whole will likely not impose any editorial or operational changes in the company, and it is unlikely that, as end users, we will see any NewsCorp influence on what Nelson put out, or do on a day-to-day basis.

    Were NewsCorp buying a Christian owned and run organisation and intending to roll it into it’s wider secular business, changing focus and mission as it went, I’d maybe have more issue, but the reality is ownership is changing from one secular venture capitalist firm (Intermedia Partners / Kohlberg & Company) to another (NewsCorp). At least it’s new owners are experienced in the Christian publishing world.

    Am I thrilled that it’s NewsCorp? Not really, but am I worried either? If the zondervan buyout, and the autonomy it managed to keep is anything to go by, I’m not really worried either.

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