HarperCollins Publishers today announced it was buying Christian/inspirational publisher Thomas Nelson "for an undisclosed sum." It's a huge move since the company will now reportedly control about half of the Christian publishing market.
The question now is how the acquisition will play with Zondervan, Thomas Nelson's chief competition. HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, acquired Zondervan in 1988. (It also owns religion and spirituality imprint HarperOne.) Thomas Nelson says it is reportedly the largest Christian publisher in the world and the seventh largest trade-book publisher in the United States. Zondervan says it is the world's leading Bible publisher.
In 2009, then-Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt reported that his publisher and Zondervan control half of the Christian publishing market–a percentage that had held relatively steady over the previous few years.
It's been a long road for Thomas Nelson, which was founded in Edinburgh in 1798 and gained religious prominence in the U.S. through the publication of the American Standard Version and Revised Standard Version of the Bible. In 1960, it merged with The Thomson Organization (which later merged with Reuters), but was bought out by eager Lebanese-American Bible publisher Sam Moore in 1969. Moore ran the company until Hyatt succeeded him in 2004.
By then Thomas Nelson had gotten into and out of the music business, swallowing Christian publishing powerhouse Word, Inc. in the early 1990s. In 2006, the company, which had been publicly traded since Moore's Royal Publishers was first listed on the exchange in 1961, was bought for $473 million and began operating as a private company. Private equity firm Kohlberg and Company acquired a majority ownership last year, and put former HarperCollins Worldwide CEO Jane Friedman on its board.