In a December deal which received little local attention, longtime Santa Barbara book and database publisher ABC-CLIO was acquired by London-based Bloomsbury Publishing. The $22.4M sale ended the family-owned company’s 65-year history (and 60 years in Santa Barbara) as an independent non-fiction publisher serving the library and school markets.
Bloomsbury — the original publisher of the Harry Potter franchise — is a respected trade and academic book and database publisher. A public company with a market capitalization of about $400M, Bloomsbury has made several acquisitions in recent years. In a press release announcing the deal, Bloomsbury CEO Nigel Newton commented: “We are delighted to welcome ABC-CLIO to Bloomsbury. ABC-CLIO is a long-standing and respected American publisher.”
In recent years ABC-CLIO has occupied a location on two floors at 147 Castilian Drive, although that office has largely stood empty for the last two years as staff worked from home during the pandemic. At its peak, the company had 100-120 staff in our area and more around the country and, for a time, offices in Colorado and Oxford, England. The company employed dozens of writers, editors, marketers, and support staff at its Riviera and then Goleta offices, many of whom got their first jobs as budding writers and editors, finding a rare opportunity to make a career on the back of their education in history and the humanities. The company long identified itself as a premier history publisher and, if you’re wondering, Clio is the Greek muse of history.
Why sell now? For company president Becky Snyder, it’s a bittersweet feeling: “As an education publisher, we have always been at the forefront of technology in terms of understanding how students go about their research and designing our products around that. This sale allows the products to stay in the forefront. For us to continue to lead and do what we wanted to do, we needed additional resources and tools.” For his part, Ron Boehm, son of the company’s founder, explained the sale similarly, as a chance to pass the publishing baton to a respected company that would “keep the business moving forward as a going concern with an entity that appreciated our staff and the value of the products and the opportunity to expand their utilization.”
What’s next for current ABC-CLIO staff? For the moment, Bloomsbury is digesting the purchase as the pre-sale ABC-CLIO staff remains in place. A spokesperson from Bloomsbury commented this week, “We want to carefully plan the integration of ABC-CLIO with Bloomsbury in the U.S. and the wider global Bloomsbury business, so it is very much business as usual. We do not plan on integrating ABC-CLIO until at least six months after the acquisition. Bloomsbury wants to use this time to understand the business, its strengths, and all the employees involved, and we want ABC-CLIO to get to know Bloomsbury.”
A HISTORY PUBLISHER’S HISTORY
Eric Boehm (1918-2017) founded the company with a compelling vision: creating and publishing abstracts (short summaries) of historical research, just as the sciences relied on abstracting publications to track research in their fields. Boehm’s other vision was that a war-torn world could be improved and brought together by a global community of like-minded scholars all collaborating on the same project of tracking worldwide historical research. As a refugee himself from Nazi Germany, Boehm knew the post-war stakes. His vision flourished, and contributions from scholars and researchers around the world poured into ABC-CLIO’s office for processing by a multilingual team of editors.
Later, the company added a line of reference books (mostly specialized encyclopedias) for the American library market and then a line of subscription databases for the school market. The focus remained history; database titles like American History, World History, and the African-American Experience are used today in many American schools.
Over the years, both the company’s book line and the subscription databases won prestigious awards in the publishing niche geared to reference materials for library patrons. In 2008, ABC-CLIO itself purchased reference and general-interest publishers Greenwood Press and Praeger, a move that overnight added tens of thousands of titles to its book list and several subscription databases. Now the company itself has been acquired, ending its long-time run as a local independent publisher.