Front-runner for Thin’s embroiled in bidding war
THE battle for James Thin’s book stores took another turn on Friday, when it emerged that the academic books and journals company Taylor & Francis had fired the first shot in a potential bidding war for Blackwell Publishing.
Blackwell Publishing is the front runner for purchasing Edinburgh booksellers James Thin but the bid from rival publisher Taylor & Francis, which has now lodged its intention to offer more than 275m for Blackwell Publishing, could leave the Thin proposals in doubt.
Toby Blackwell, who is a 30.1% owner of the company wants a sale but his nephew Nigel Blackwell, Blackwell Publishing’s chairman who owns 42.3%, wants the company to remain independent.
Bruce Cartwright, receiver for James Thin, says he has a number of interested parties looking to buy up parts of the family firm, but to lose the Blackwell interest could be a blow.
"All the potential purchasers have had the sales memos and we’re setting a closing date for indicative offers, probably in the next two weeks. We have talked to a lot of people and I feel we are close to a conclusion," said Cartwright.
The Blackwell family feud continues as Nigel appears to have won the backing of Toby’s son Philip, who is chief executive of Blackwell Ltd and owns 5.3 % of Blackwell Publishing.
Blackwell Publishing appointed Morgan Stanley to advise on ways of increasing liquidity for shareholders, but has reaffirmed its commitment to a stand-alone strategy.
Founded in 1798, Taylor & Francis is even older than Blackwell, which dates back to 1869 and Thin’s, which was founded in Edinburgh in 1848.
It is following a highly acquisitive strategy, making 18 purchases in 15 years, and adding more than 600 journals and 10,000 books to its business since floating on the London Stock Exchange in May 1998.
Taylor & Francis is now valued at 475m and sees Blackwell’s business as highly complementary to its own scientific, humanities and other non-fiction publishing operations.
The interest in James Thin has been narrowed down to three bidders. In 1994, Thin’s acquired 20 branches of the English book chain Volume One for more than 4.5m, but suffered from competition from supermarkets and the internet as the Net Price Agreement disappeared.
Over 20 prospectuses were sent out by PricewaterhouseCoopers, but Ottakar’s, Blackwell’s and Coutts Information Services, the owner of Glasgow-based rival John Smith & Son, are said to have been on the shortlist.
Bournemouth-based Coutts acquired Smith’s last year and is currently rebranding seven academic outlets in England under the John Smith & Son banner.
There is also a proposal for a management buyout for Mercat Press, part of the Thin empire. Cartwright is marketing Mercat separate from James Thin but says he hopes to conclude on that soon. "It’s a small part of the operation with a turnover of less that half a million. We are focusing on finding buyers for the James Thin stores and I’m confident that we’ll be successful."
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