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France’s Flammarion for Sale, Battle for Acquisition Begins

UPDATED: To reflect Albin Michel and Actes Sud’s joint bid on Monday, March 19.

By Olivia Snaije

french flagPARIS: On Friday the Italian RCS MediaGroup, which reported a net loss of 322 million euros in 2011, confirmed that French publisher Flammarion, which it has owned since 2000, is for sale.

Independent publisher Gallimard has announced interest and the plot thickened when today, Francis Esménard, CEO of Albin Michel and Jean-Paul Capitani, head of business development at Actes Sud, told French trade publication Livres Hebdo, that they had made a joint bid for Flammarion.”

Françoise Nyssen, Actes Sud’s CEO previously told trade magazine Livres Hebdo, that buying Flammarion would be a way of preserving the independence and plurality in the French publishing sphere.

Gallimard, which was the first publisher to express an interest in buying Flammarion and had been seen as a favorite, now has a formidable opponent in both Albin Michel and Actes Sud. Actes Sud, while extremely successful and dynamic, is considerably smaller in terms of revenue — 59 million euros in 2010, while Albin Michel reported 165 million euros for the same year; both firms are very interested in Flammarion’s distribution network, Union Distribution (UD).

A recent article in Le Monde underlined the complementarity of, in particular, a Flammarion-Albin Michel union. Albin Michel, which currently uses Hachette Livre as a distributor could benefit greatly from Flammarion’s distribution setup. The two houses also have a shared history — Francis Esménard’s grandfather began his career in publishing working for Ernest Flammarion over a hundred years ago. Both men were from the region of Champagne. Actes Sud, however, already uses Flammarion as a distributor, and Flammarion holds shares of 27.7% in Actes Sud Participations.

Flammarion, according to bankers and analysts, is worth between 220 and 250 million euros.

Like Gallimard and Albin Michel, Flammarion was family-run until it was acquired by RCS. Its history, said Le Monde, has been unexciting, yet Flammarion has managed to build a solid, successful company by having a little bit of everything for everyone. Its main centers of activity are concentrated on general literature, children’s books, comics, paperbacks and distribution. According to Le Monde a total of 10 candidates have made non-binding offers, five French—besides the aforementioned Média Participations and Editis are candidates — two foreign companies, HarperCollins and Feltrinelli, and three investment funds. Three offers will be retained which will lead to a second phase that will give interested buyers access to Flammarion’s financial information.

SURVEY: Which of the US Big Six Will Be First to Merge?

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