By Eugene Gerden
Oleg Novikov, the Russian millionaire and the owner of AST and Eksmo, Russia’s leading publishing houses, is acquiring Drofa, one of the country leading publishers of educational materials and literature. Alexander Kondakov, the chairman of Drofa, has confirmed the deal, which is expected to be in the range of RUB 2,4 billion (US$60-70 million).
The transaction has already been approved by the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) and may be closed in a short time. According to one of them, it can be closed this week.
If everything goes ahead, Novikov is likely to consolidate the country’s largest publishing assets in his hands.
The Russian Union of Writers has stated that the acquisition of Drofa will be a strategically important decision for Novikov, as, amid the general stagnation of the Russian book market, education publishing will continue to grow. Another advantage of purchasing Drofa is that it regularly receives orders from the state. In 2013, the government purchased books worth some 487.3 million rubles ($14.4 million) and there is a possibility that this year they may further increase.
At present, Drofa accounts for 3.62% of all book sales in Russia, compared to Eksmo’s 14.93% and ACT’s 9.6%.
Constantin Dragan, the owner of Drofa, has been shopping the company for some time. In 2012, he held talks with Olma Media Group, another major Russian publishing group, owned by Oleg Tkach and Vladimir Uzun. The deal was blocked by FAS, which feared the establishment of a monopoly in the Russian market of educational literature, taking into account the fact that Olma currently remains the owner of Prosveshenie, the second largest player in the segment.
Oleg Novikov, who founded Eksmo became a principal owner of AST last December and currently owns 87.5% of the company. At present Eksmo and its rival AST together publish approximately 30% of all Russian books.
The acquisition is an interesting one, as Eksmo is particularly known as a publisher of Russian science fiction and fantasy, with writers like Sergey Lukyanenko, Yuri Nikitin, Vasily Golovache, Nick Perumov, Vera Kamsha and Vadim Panov. And the Eksmo has been criticized in the past for publishing books which glorify Stalin and his henchmen, such as Renaissance of Stalin, Beria: The Best Manager of 20th century, and Handbook of Stalinism by Yuri Zhukov. A group of writers and artists, including Alexander Gelman, signed an open letter questioning such an editorial policy. The director of the publishing house responded that Eksmo is only catering to the taste of their readers.