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Piatkus sold to Little Brown

30 July 2007

This week's surprise announcement of the sale of Piatkus Books to Little Brown is saddening for those who value the diversity in the publishing world contributed by independent publishers.

Piatkus, which had successfully increased its profitable turnover to £10 million ($20 million) was set up 28 years ago by its eponymous founder, Judy Piatkus, as a library publisher. It has grown steadily, building up highly successful mind body and spirit and personal development lists before such things were fashionable, and also a profitable business list, alongside a strong fiction list. In recent years the Portrait list has added a wider range of non-fiction, such as history and memoirs and (as the website says, rather endearingly) 'other subjects that appeal to us'. As well as big-name fiction writers such as Norah Roberts, Piatkus has carved a successful mainstream niche for itself with initiatives such as their paranormal romances.

Throughout, the Piatkus approach has been cautious but realistic, checking out markets before venturing into them, as a publisher which does not have the big financial resources of the corporates has to do. Deputy Managing Director Philip Cotterell has guided the publisher's sales growth through the choppy waters of bookselling.

Little Brown is now part of Hachette Livre UK, the biggest UK publisher, and this acquisition puts them safely out of reach of the next biggest, Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing, which had been shortening Hachette's lead. This may seem a very trivial consideration to those outside the publishing world but big publishers are obsessed with market share.

In fact market share ought to be of concern to everyone. Before this purchase was announced Hachette, having acquired Hodder Headline then Time-Warner Publishing (now Little Brown) in quick succession, had achieved 15.3% market share in the first half of this year. Random House had 14.7%, Penguin 10.5% and HarperCollins 8.3%, meaning that the top four publishers had nearly 50% of the UK market.

The importance of strong independents as part of the mix is evident. It's good at least to be able to report that Piatkus will move over in its entirety into Little Brown, with minimum loss of jobs and none of the list-cutting which often accompanies takeovers of this kind. It will be a good fit from the publishing point of view since Piatkus' areas of strength are not duplicated within Little Brown, although they certainly are in other parts of the Hachette group, within Hodder, Headline, Orion and Octopus. Since the new dynamic of corporate publishing growth is to have a wide range of lists, which may even compete, this may not be bad news for Piatkus's authors and staff, nor even for writers as a whole.

And Judy Piatkus, retiring after 28 years of extremely hard work, has said that she may train as a reiki healer - an apt new direction for someone who has published so many successful books in this genre.