Simon & Schuster To Acquire the Netherlands’ VBK

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

‘Our shared goal is to expand the audience for our authors and their books,’ says S&S CEO Jonathan Karp on the VBK acquisition.

An image from VBK’s international rights page on its site. The in-house rights agency at VBK is called ‘Shared Stories’ and handles translation, film, television, and stage rights across the group’s publishing houses. A Simon & Schuster spokesperson indicates that the rights agency at VBK will remain, with the rest of the company, autonomous. S&S’ own output is available for sale in more than 200 markets. Image: VBK Shared Stories

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

Karp: ‘How Similar Our Values and Practices Are’
As many of our Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, during our keynote interview at London Book Fair, Jonathan Karp, the president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, was adamant about his interest in taking his 100-year-old publishing house into new levels of international work.

He said that “not being a gargantuan company,” in fact, supports such internationalist interests.

“We’re in meetings regularly and we’ve got a Zoom meeting where we’ve got Canada and the UK and Australia we’re talking every week now,” Karp said. “We’ll be publishing more geopolitics internationally, more business books internationally, more practical nonfiction internationally. The traffic will be going in all directions.” One of those directions, we know now, includes making a beeline for the Dutch and Flemish markets.

Add the Netherlands to that list of countries on the group call, as Karp announces today (May 6) the acquisition of Utrecht’s Veen Bosch & Keuning (VBK). The company is a consortium of sorts, with 13 publishing houses in the Netherlands and Belgium operating under its aegis to produce the work of some 6,000 authors. This brings its output, in round figures offered by VBK to some 9,000 books, 12,000 ebooks, and 4,000 audiobooks.

This is the first non-English acquisition for the company, which Karp now likes to call an independent house (though one of the United States’ Big Five) under its new ownership by the investment firm KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts).

“VBK marks Simon & Schuster’s first entree into a territory where English is not the most-spoken language,” Karp tells his staff today. “As the publishing industry becomes more international, we are grateful to be associated with such an outstanding company. For all of us, this is very exciting news, or, as they say in Dutch, Geweldig nieuws.

The acquisition announced today includes VBK’s associated companies Thinium and Bookchoice, but the Dutch house and all its companies are to maintain their autonomy in this all-cash deal the terms of which are not being disclosed.

“In joining with VBK, we believe that together we can grow the audience for Dutch-language authors in the Netherlands, Belgium, and throughout the world.”Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster

Analysts at PNB Paribas may see some promising timing of this acquisition—approval of which from Dutch regulatory authorities is pending. In a report from the latter part of April, PNB’s Sylviane Delcuve wrote, “The short Dutch recession seems to be over, thanks to dynamic private and public consumption. Inflation continues to cool down, even though it remains stickier than thought in some sectors. A new government has still not been formed yet, but there is a consensus about the fact that once it is the case, public spending is set to increase further, giving the economy an extra boost. The Dutch economy is therefore likely to navigate a different, more positive, path from its neighbors’.”

As Sabela Ojea at the Wall Street Journal writes today, “According to the companies, VBK is the largest publisher of adult and children’s general-interest books in the Netherlands, publishing 1,500 titles annually with 280 employees. Simon & Schuster, meanwhile, publishes 1,300 new titles each year and has about 1,700 employees.”

Simon & Schuster is stressing that VBK’s authors will gain “better opportunities to publish their work  outside the Dutch-speaking region” even as “importantly, VBK will retain its independence.”

As Karp is putting it in his remarks, “VBK, Thinium, and Bookchoice will remain Dutch.” He notes, too, that he and VBK CEO Geneviève Waldmann “first began talking about a potential partnership last year at Frankfurt Book Fair. Our conversation continued at London Book Fair. During our talks together, we were struck by how similar our values and practices are as publishers. Our shared goal is to expand the audience for our authors and their books.”

Waldmann: ‘A Perfect Match’

VBK’s Waldmann, in fact, will remain in her position as the Dutch company’s CEO, even as she joins the Simon & Schuster leadership ranks.

Geneviève Waldmann

We would like to offer our writers a larger and international platform,” Waldmann says. “By joining S&S, we can expand on this ambition and our pursuit of further digitization and innovation.

“S&S and VBK are a perfect match. Both publishing houses, which are led by experienced publishers, have been around for more than a century and serve a broad portfolio of writers.

“Creativity and entrepreneurship,” Waldmann says, “are shared core values, which are also reflected in the  organizational culture in which authors typically work in small teams with committed editors and collaborators.”

Characteristic of Karp’s stewardship of Simon & Schuster, all employees of the VBK deal—in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Weesp, and Antwerp—will be able to benefit from “the S&S broad-based ownership program” offered to other installations of the company.

And his comments in a staff memo shared with the press today clearly echo many of the notes Waldmann is hitting.

Simon & Schuster president and CEO Jonathan Karp in a keynote interview with ‘Publishing Perspectives’ at London Book Fair 2024. Conversations with Geneviève Waldmann began at the 2023 Frankfurter Buchmesse in October and continued at London Book Fair in March. Image: LBF

“VBK,” he writes by way of introduction, “is a distinguished and venerable collection of imprints, headquartered in Utrecht and with offices in Amsterdam and Antwerp, that publishes many of the most popular and acclaimed Dutch writers, including Geert Mak, Sacha Bronwasser, Lucas Rijneveld, Murat Isik, and Herman Koch. In joining with VBK, we believe that together we can grow the audience for Dutch-language authors in the Netherlands, Belgium, and throughout the world.

“Bosch & Keuning was founded in 1925, a year after Simon & Schuster—and with a similar spirit of collaboration between Christian publisher E.J. Bosch J. Bzn and his friend, Pieter Keuning. The V in VBK belonged to L.J. Veen, who founded his imprint in 1887. Both publishing houses merged in 2001. Another VBK imprint, Luitingh-Sitjhoff, was established by Albertus Willem Sijthoff in 1851. So if any of you were feeling conspicuously old after our 100th anniversary, VBK offers us the opportunity to celebrate our relative youth.

Creativity and entrepreneurship are shared core values, which are also reflected in the  organizational culture in which authors typically work in small teams with committed editors and collaborators.Geneviève Waldmann, VBK

“VBK,” Karp goes on, “is also home to a roster of internationally acclaimed and bestselling authors published in translation, including Nicci French, Colleen Hoover, Stephen King, Sally Rooney, Tatiana de Rosnay, Jeff Kinney, Rachel Renée Russell, Haruki Murakami, Colson Whitehead, Jamie Oliver, and Glennon Doyle. As you can see, we already happily share with VBK a number of our prominent international authors.

S&S’ media messaging notes that its own titles are available for sale in more than 200 international markets.

Karp compliments the work of Waldmann, calling her “a dynamic and innovative leader … We look forward to working with Geneviève and her team. … Under Geneviève’s leadership, VBK has thrived, and we’re enthusiastic about her vision for future growth at VBK.”

Karp ads that VBK “also operates some exciting direct-to-consumer and other publishing-related businesses, including Bookchoice, a subscription-based platform for ebooks and audiobooks; Thinium, the largest audiobook producer in the Netherlands, producing audiobooks for both VBK and third-party titles; Van Dale, the largest and most authoritative publisher of Dutch dictionaries; AudioLab, its podcast production unit; and Boekenwereld, an e-commerce channel.”

Understandably pleased with the news he brings today, Jonathan Karp says to his staff, “Our shared goal is to expand the audience for our authors and their books.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on Simon & Schuster is here, more on international publishing is here, more on the Netherlands’ market is here, more on the United States market is here, more on mergers and acquisitions is here, and more on international rights and licensing 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.