French Publishers on the Hachette-Editis Merger: ‘Such a Concentration’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The SNE warns of ‘a concentration such as the French book market has never known’ in the merger of Vivendi and Lagardère.

At Paris’ Hôtel de Ville on December 31, 2021. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Olivier Dijann

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

SNE: ‘Social, Educational and Cultural Stakes’
The issue of consolidation among publishing companies has followed us with dogged tenacity into 2022, of course.

Sometimes met, perhaps understandably, with more emotion than logic, there are always quick negative reactions around news of another takeover, which is frequently called a merger—a softer term. There are, of course, good reasons for critical thinking and concern around the issues which inevitably are more nuanced than the mere facts of big vs. small, and competitive advances don’t always play out as expected.

Diversity and inclusivity, for example, are deemed by many to have a better chance of enriching the work of book publishing if that work is held in more hands, not fewer hands. But the multiplicity of imprints and divisions in large houses is said by some to be a mitigating factor, depending on how much autonomy and range such elements (often acquisitions, themselves) may achieve inside a larger corporation. Still, the cultivation of a local literary environment may be of less concern to “the multinationals,” which never arrives as a positive term to everyone.

Then again, some will argue—especially in the international sphere in which our readers work—that there are advantages that scale and reach provide for authors as well as for a readership. Such size and capability are arguably more frequently found in bigger companies, particularly when two conjoined house each bring unique contributions to the table. In a world and industry in which globalization is all but a fait accompli, a counterweight to local publishing has merit in many professionals’ eyes, making the issues around mergers and acquisitions increasingly complex.

An interesting instance in the controversy has been provided this week by the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), which on Tuesday (January 4) issued a statement about the anticipated super-company formed by Lagardère’s Hachette Livre and Vivendi’s Editis. With Vivendi expected to become France’s largest publishing interest, SNE is calling on authorities to protect “essential values” in the industry and its commercial framework.

“As the merger of the two largest French publishing groups—at the initiative of a single media group—is announced,” the SNE writes, “and with it the threat of a concentration such as the French book market has never known, the Syndicat national de l’édition, with the 720 publishing houses it represents, reiterates its support for what underpins the great dynamism of its sector, namely its great editorial and commercial diversity, and the policies that support it.”

One thing that makes this instance of a contentious merger interesting, of course, is the deeply honored cultural legacy of France. While culture is in one way or another (and to varying degrees) important in all national markets, the French ethos is especially closely associated with its literature.

“The preservation of fair access to the retail market and to the rights market,” the SNE writes, “as well as to raw materials and to the media, is a necessary condition for the balanced development of our sector of activity, which carries strong social, educational and cultural stakes.

“The preservation of fair access to the retail market and to the rights market, as well as to raw materials and to the media, is a necessary condition for the balanced development of our sector of activity, which carries strong social, educational and cultural stakes.”SNE statement

“The proper representation of works in bookstores is at stake and, with it, the free expression of ideas and imagination.

“The Syndicat national de l’édition therefore calls on the competent French and European authorities to guarantee the respect of these essential values, in order to prevent any risk of abuse of a dominant position and any dissymmetry that would undermine the free play of competition and cultural diversity. It is in this sense that the Syndicat national de l’édition acts, in the service of all its members and for the benefit of the entire book community: authors, publishers, distributors, booksellers, retailers and readers.”

The statement concludes with a note indicating that of those more-than 720 publishing houses represented by SNE, “The Hachette Livre and Editis groups are not signatories to this press release.”

Time will tell whether that, in fact, indicates a coming schism between the expected merged entity and the rest of the association’s membership.

Recent News in the Merger Story

On December 9, Geert de Clercq and Silvia Aloisi reported for Reuters Paris that Vivendi would accelerate its purchase of the key mechanism by which it’s to gain the controlling hand, buying the activist fund Amber’s stake of nearly 18 percent in Lagardère.

Pledging not to exercise voting rights based on “the Amber [Capital] stake acquisition or the tender offer on minority shareholders until the necessary regulatory approvals had been obtained,” Vivendi will–looking beyond book publishing–”will gain control over Lagardère’s flagship magazine Paris Match, weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche and radio station Europe 1,” to add to its existing ownership of the Canal+ pay-television consortium and CNEWS.

As de Clercq and Aloisi are pointing out, the broader implications here have to do with the coming April 10 French presidential election, CNEWS being a right-leaning news outlet and Vivendi lead shareholder Vincent Bollore rumored to back Eric Zemmour over Emmanuel Macron.

Media reports on December 16 and 17 confirmed the Vivendi Group’s buy of 24,685,108 shares of Lagardère from Amber Capital at the originally proposed (in September) price of €24.10 (US$27.23). Dow Jones’ Giulia Petroni reported on December 17, here carried by Morningstar, that Lagardère was appointing a committee to create a draft opinion for the board of directors on the takeover bid.

The Coronavirus in France

Sudip Kar-gupta and Jean Terzian report for Reuters Paris“France’s parliament on Thursday approved Emmanuel Macron’s plans for a vaccine pass to help curb the spread of the ‘omicron’ variant after a tumultuous debate whipped up by Macron’s comments that he wanted to ‘piss off’ the unvaccinated.”

The legislation, hard-won at 5 a.m. with a 214-to-93 draft vote after an all-night session, goes to the senate before a conclusive vote in the National Assembly.

“On Wednesday,” Kar-gupta and Terzian report, “France registered a record of more than 332,000 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, and a further 246 COVID deaths in hospitals, as the country.” Rachel Russell, writing for Sky News, however, reports that the following day, Thursday, “France reported 261,481 new coronavirus infections, which was less than the staggering tally of more than 332,000 the previous day.”

Indeed, she writes, “Prof. Alain Fischer, an official responsible for France’s COVID vaccine strategy, said that this peak could come ‘primarily towards the beginning of the second fortnight of January, so if we work it out this would be in around 10 days time.'”

At this writing, the 10:21 a.m. ET (1521 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees France as No. 3 in the world behind the United States and the United Kingdom, when ranked by new cases on a 28-day rolling basis. Those cases (28 days) come to 3,080,099 in France’s population of 67.3 million, with 4,849 fatalities, also on that 28-day rolling basis.

During the full run of the pandemic, France has reported a total 11,290,010 cases and 126,002 deaths.

In Paris’ Trocadero district, December 26, 2021. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Bruno Giuliani

More from Publishing Perspectives on mergers and acquisitions is here, more on the French market is here, and more from SNE, the Syndicat national de l’édition, is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.