January 24, 2014
Quercus, Stieg Larsson’s publisher, is for sale
by Kirsten Reach
Quercus, an independent publisher founded in 2004, went up for sale this week. In December, the company announced a new work from Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium Series—written by David Lagercrantz—would be released in 2015. But that doesn’t seem to be soon enough. Just a few weeks later, at the end of the year, Quercus announced “a significant trading loss” in 2013.
That loss was a combination of ongoing issues such as retailers’ “conservative ordering policies” and “a lower than expected upturn in digital sales over the Christmas period to the end of the year.” Anecdotally, Pentland, the private group that owns 47% in Quercus is also the owner of Speedo.
Book sales last year for Quercus hit an eleven-year low, to 184 million, according to The Bookseller. The stock market value of the publisher has slumped more than eighty percent. The trouble with big commercial successes like the Larsson trilogy—which made £5.9 million profit before tax in 2011—can be inflated expectations in the years that follow.
With two years of disappointing Christmas sales in a row, the owners felt they had no choice but to put the company up for sale. “We need the reach, resources and clout of a big company to compete with the major publishing houses,” said Mark Smith, the chief executive of Quercus, in an interview with Kate Burgess in The Financial Times.
Quoted by Gideon Spanier in The London Evening Standard, Smith also said the company was “finding it difficult to get our books in front of consumers,” and that publishers ought to reflect on the “concentration of power within the retailing industry.”
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.