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The Five Million Dollar Journal

 

 

A collection development colleague of mine once said that he had a recurring dream. In his dream he awoke to find that there was only one journal and it cost $5 million. A look at the shrinking number of companies that are displayed here could cause one to think that my friend is not too far from the mark.

 

Some 12 companies, which are or have recently produced scholarly journals and books, are profiled here. They come from Europe and North America, and they are all multinational corporations. I have generally tracked only English language materials, since the bulk of scholarly information is now produced in English.

 

The material listed here was gathered from public sources news accounts, directory listings, company histories, and the websites of the companies. In general, where there was a discrepancy between accounts, I have used either the official company website or the most authoritative source. The prices of the mergers and acquisitions are not always available. If a price is reported in any of the sources I have used, I have included it.

 

A number of similarities have been noted between these companies. They are not new companies. The oldest company in the group is Taylor & Francis, founded in 1797, and only Thomson was founded after 1900. Most started as booksellers or printers, but there was a hat maker, a building contractor, and a radio station owner among them.

 

The founders were all single owners or partners, and most of the firms were, until recently, owned and managed by family members. Almost all of them still have family members on the board or in the hierarchy of the company. Despite their continuing influence, family members no longer have undisputed power, as was evidenced in the recent struggle at one firm between managers and wife of the patriarch over her power to veto decisions. At another firm, when the widow of the founder took up the reins, a similar dispute arose, this time over the quality of her decision-making. In the last 25 years, the CEOs of the companies have tended to be professional managers, and it is interesting to note that the pace of mergers and acquisitions has certainly increased in that period.

 

The founders tended to be gentlemen, and sometimes scholars themselves. As the families prospered, two of the founders were promoted to the peerage in England. They published the great minds of their day in the sciences and in the humanities and literary arts. They prospered and they tended their scholarly reputations carefully. The scholarly world before the information explosion after World War II was relatively stable. World War II and its aftermath was a difficult and dangerous time for all of the firms, but particularly for the German and British firms, and several had to undertake serious re-building after the war.

 

Another trend clearly shown in the timelines used in this study is the struggle of the firms to find a steady, but profitable niche for their publication efforts. The mergers and acquisitions as well as the sales strategies are clearly attempts to find a niche market for the publishing activities of the company. The number of acquisitions which are quite quickly sold off to other companies can be seen as an example of the failure of some of these attempts or as interim strategies to consolidate market segments.

 

The imprints tracked here are the major imprints of the firms, but I have been selective, particularly with firms where there was considerable activity outside of publishing, such as the great media conglomerates. In general, I have kept to the scholarly and scientific side of the imprints, and left out much of the trade, newspaper and media imprints of the firms. A major finding of this research has been how many of the major imprints bought by academic librarians all over the world are owned by the same company, and how much, even in our own professional literature, we are purchasing from the same 12 companies. The story is sobering.

 

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of TJ Lusher in the creation of this website. Without her valuable assistance, the project would have been ten times more difficult. I can be reached at mmunroe@niu.edu for questions and corrections. This page will be updated to keep up with what is a changing and challenging industry.

--Mary H. Munroe