September 24, 2014

Netherland-based publisher Swets is filing for bankrupcy


Via Shutterstock.

Foreboding photo via Shutterstock.

German trade magazine Börsenblatt reports that Swets, a publishing company based in Leiden that provides 35,000 subscription services to universities and libraries, will be filing for bankruptcy. As much as we love to send you off with a pun, I will not make a single joke about the publisher being sweaty. This is not that kind of story.

The company began as a small bookstore in Amsterdam in 1901, run by Adriaan Swets and Zeitlinger Heinrich. A small publishing operation expanded to offices in twenty-seven countries, including the UK, with services available in 160 countries.

Just to give you a sense of the scale, Swets & Zeitlinger, its parent company, now has 541 full-time employees. The company was on the verge of collapse in 2004, but sold off most of its publishing business and received some cash from its then-owners. They took out tens of millions of Euros in loans. The band-aid didn’t work. The company was “reorganized” (you know how ugly that can be) and acquired by Gilde in 2007.

More than half of the company’s sales in 2013 were provided by major publishers. Springer Verlag and Elsevier (based in Amsterdam) warned their customers about the upcoming financial difficulties, saying, “We are concerned for all payments, including those for subscriptions for 2015.” Elsevier’s message to librarians is available in full here.

With last year’s loss of 1.9 million Euros on a revenue of just 550 million Euros, according to RTL News, the company’s loans are due immediately and it just won’t be able to make that payment. They say it is due to the shift in the economy and the poor margins in digital sales, industry-wide. An Amsterdam preliminary court has granted the business bankruptcy protection. Its payment obligations are currently frozen, and the firm CMS Derks Star Busmann has been appointed liquidator.

The company described itself as “the global market leader in content management services for libraries and publishers,” but last year’s annual report was grim. It’s not clear what happens next–the company calls this a time of “material uncertainty“–but nothing looks good.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.