Lucy joins the Scholastic fold
Author-illustrator Suzy Spafford has signed a multiyear deal with Scholastic to develop new titles for her preschool book series Little Suzy’s Zoo. Scholastic plans to release the first three titles, Witzy’s Block Party (US$8.99), Witzy’s Book of Words (US$5.99) and Witzy Plays Hide and Seek (US$9.99), later this fall. The deal also gives Scholastic North American distribution rights to Spafford’s three previously published Witzy books, of which there are currently 500,000 copies in print. Lyrick Publishing, a division of Barney production company Lyrick Studios, previously held publishing rights to Spafford’s books, but that deal was nullified when U.K. prodco HIT Entertainment purchased Lyrick in January. Although Scholastic also signed a deal with HIT to distribute Barney books in February, Scholastic director of publicity Kris Moran says the two agreements are separate.
Vivendi Universal picks up Houghton Mifflin
French media conglom Vivendi Universal has bolstered its publishing business by snatching up Boston-based educational pubco Houghton Mifflin. VU paid US$1.7 billion for the 169-year-old publisher, and agreed to eat the company’s debt of US$500 million. Houghton Mifflin, which draws 90% of its revenues from sales of its K-12 and college textbooks, posted sales of US$1.02 billion last year, and is projected to take in revenues of US$1.1 billion this year. The acquisition gives Vivendi Universal Publishing (VUP) a solid base in the U.S., where Houghton is currently the fourth-largest textbook producer, and makes VUP the second-largest educational publisher in the world behind Pearson Education.
However, analysts believe that Houghton’s real value is that it provides Vivendi Universal with more content and yet another platform from which to cross-leverage its film, TV, games and music businesses. So should consumers expect to see kids toting Woody Woodpecker math textbooks in their knapsacks anytime soon? Brandon Dobell, a senior analyst at Chicago-based investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston who follows the publishing and education sector, thinks that development is an inevitable and wise one.
‘Look at how Scholastic has used its characters in its textbook business. Oftentimes kids are more attentive if they’re learning with a character they know or like, rather than having a bouncing ball or something more generic teaching them math.’
Similarly, Dobell believes that Vivendi will also try to offer content from Houghton through its other media businesses, like music site MP3.com, which it purchased in May. ‘Publishers already know that in a couple of years, the textbook is not going to look anything like it does now. It will be a combination of print and web resources. If MP3 becomes a resource for not only music, but, say, for sound or video clips of Kennedy’s inaugural address, then that’s a pretty smart use of its technological infrastructure,’ says Dobell.