The declining odyssey of Editis | The echoes

Any resemblance to certain names or past situations is not necessarily coincidental. This Tuesday, Vivendi announced that it entered into exclusive negotiations with the Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky for the resale of Editis for an enterprise value of around 700 million euros. The circle is about to come full circle for the number two French publisher, which is looking for a new future while its valuation has melted like snow in the sun in twenty years: it has liquefied by nearly 60% compared to its glorious hours. Go back.

In 2002, Vivendi sells VUP (Vivendi Universal Publishing) – then leader of the French publishing sector -, to the Lagardère group for 1.25 billion euros, or nearly 1.75 billion in current euros, adjusted for inflation. An operation started when the conglomerate saw the end of the Messier era and endorsed by Jean-René Fourtou. At the time, the late Jean-Luc Lagardère maintains that bringing together the number two tricolor he owns (Hachette) and VUP will not raise any anti-competitive problem on the side of Brussels. Nay.

Two years later, Arnaud Lagardère (at the helm after the death of his father in February 2003) is forced to sell 60% of the ets of VUP but retains Larousse, Chambers and Harrap, the Spanish group Anaya, Dunod, Dalloz and Armand Colin. Through this sleight of hand, Hachette becomes the French leader and becomes an international group. Fairly emaciated, VUP can then contemplate his past in the shapely reflection of his old rival.

At the time, Gallimard and Média-Participations were candidates for the takeover of the neo-VUP, certainly dismantled, but which still looks good with a slew of good brands (Nathan, Bordas, Robert Laffont, Julliard, Plon, etc.). Alas… the Lagardère group wants nothing less than to see a rival emerge capable of holding off Hachette in France and accepts Wendel’s offer of 660 million euros. “Arnaud Lagardère has chosen a competitor at his hand! we fulminate then at Gallimard. Thus was painfully born Editis.

1. The Wendel era (2004-2008)

“Entry into a noble profession”: these are the words that Ernest-Antoine Seillière, Chairman of Wendel, describes the arrival of the publishing investment company. At Editis, everyone is waiting, but this period will not remain as the worst in terms of the destruction of values. On the contrary. “Wendel put parts back into the machine, recalls a group executive. They made several great acquisitions. » XO (Guillaume Musso, Christian Jacq), the first Belgian publisher De Boeck (sold in 2011), Le Cherche Midi: over the years, Editis has regained flesh and muscle.

But very quickly, the group changed ownership again. In 2008, Wendel sold Editis for an enterprise value of 1.02 billion euros, with the Spanish leader in Planeta publishing , pocketing a copious capital gain. “We intend to stay permanently in Editis”, swore however, four years earlier, Jean-Bernard Lafonta, managing director of Wendel Investist. We are not an investment fund, but a group with industrial roots. […] We reason at five, ten or fifteen years. Even in publishing, we don’t pay for words.

2. The Planeta Era (2008-2018)

At the time, the change of shareholder was well received at Editis. “We went from a fund to an industrialist in the sector. Everyone was optimistic, rewinds a former editor of Editis. But in retrospect, this is where the band began its downfall. Since publishing is a long-term industry, the downgrading is not immediately palpable. Especially since the captain at the time, late Alain Kouck holds the helm well and focuses the group’s strategy on two buoyant pillars: distribution-broadcasting and Pocket.

But without “cash”, hard to go the distance. “Planeta did not invest enough to revive the group because of its economic difficulties which we were not aware of at the time, recalls a former employee. There were very few synergies between Editis and Planeta, not enough external growth, costs were tight. Inevitably, your best publishers and authors end up being approached. »

departure [de l’éditrice Muriel Beyer] was an economic disaster. Musso is the DNA of Editis and what the group knows how to do best: unearth authors for the general public and turn them into big commercial successes.

An editor of EDITIS

In 2016, editor Muriel Beyer leaves Plon to launch and direct the editions of the Observatory, a pole of general literature within of the Humensis group (SCOR) . She embarks with her a slew of successful authors: Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Duhamel, etc. A first clap of thunder before the lightning strikes: a few months later, Guillaume Musso goes to Calmann-Lévy , the prestigious house of Hachette having recently had the publisher Philippe Robinet at the helm. An “ex” from Editis too…

“This departure was an economic disaster. Musso is the DNA of Editis and what the group knows how to do best: unearth authors for the general public and turn them into big commercial successes, explains an editor from Editis (which still publishes authors like Marc Lévy, Michel Bussi and Franck Thilliez). Seeing Hachette go to the enemy, our major author and identity, was a trauma from which Editis never really recovered. »

Under the guidance of Pierre Conte appointed CEO in 2017, Editis is not standing idly by: it is buying Editions Héloïse d’Ormesson and the Archipelago, launches in the audiobook with Lizzie and takes shares in Jungle to found a comic book structure. Two parts of the booming market where the group was previously absent or very little present. But a new era is already dawning with the takeover of Vivendi which acquires Editis for an enterprise value of nearly 900 million euros.

3. The Vivendi II era (2018-2023)

The reputation of the Bolloré family precedes it, the arrival of Vivendi arouses contradictory feelings internally. “We knew their brutal methods of management and we knew that many were going to be ejected. Since then, we have been neither disappointed nor pleasantly surprised, ironically an Editis executive. But it had raised hopes on an economic level. After two LBOs that did not say their name since Wendel and Planeta had bought Editis with debt, you had there an entertainment giant anxious to develop licenses thanks to synergies with the other entities of the group. »

What the Praetorian Guard of the Bolloré clan calls the “Paddington model”. Translation: In 2016, Vivendi bought the rights to the bear in the blue duffle coat, whose films on the big screens – produced by Studiocanal while Universal handled the soundtrack – resulted in commercial success. In addition, mobile video games were also developed by Gameloft while Havas orchestrated the communication. A successful large-scale synergy operation. Logically, the edition was to constitute a new level of this model, destined to apply to other franchises. But the mountain gave birth to another mouse for Editis…

“Vivendi had real ambitions for the group but the opportunity to get hold of Lagardère’s ets, including Hachette, quickly presented itself to Bolloré, replays an expert in the sector. And you can turn the photo upside down, Hachette, it looks better than Editis: there are more successful authors, it’s more international, more profitable. Inevitably, Vivendi changed its perspective and did not make the revival of Editis a priority. »

[Kretinski] will find itself with Hachette as its main French rival, owned by Vivendi, which knows all the workings of Editis. It’s far from ideal.

A former editis executive

What conclusions can be drawn as the second reign of Vivendi comes to an end, which will not have lasted longer than Wendel? « Michele Benbunan [nommée à la tête d’Editis fin 2019] did a good job in modernizing the industrial distribution tool. She was also able to quickly bring in turnover by bringing Trédaniel and L’Iconoclaste & Les Arènes to Interforum. [la filiale de distribution-diffusion d’Editis] “, enumerates a former member of the house.

In 2021, broadcasting-distribution (344 million euros) had also outstripped literature (336 million), becoming Editis’ main source of income. “But Michèle Benbunan is above all an expert in logistics and this always fishes on the editorial side. There were no ‘coups’ from Editis, while there were big transfers like that of Pierre Lemaître from Albin Michel to Calmann-Lévy in 2020, relates this former employee. There are still very good editors (rices) at Editis, but when you don’t have an open checkbook and there’s such a lack of visibility on the future of the group, you don’t attract big names. »

Others have a tougher tooth. “Plon is a jewel of the group. However, there were two Plons who lived together in two different places in Paris, with two different directions (with Lise Boëll, the former editor of Eric Zemmour at Albin Michel, on the one hand, and Céline on the other Thoulouze with the historic team) who made two separate autumn literary returns… I’ve never seen that. The situation is settling [Lise Boëll a été récemment nommée à la tête de Plon] but how could the management have allowed this situation to continue? wonders, stunned, an expert in the sector also wondering about the future of the education, one of the pillars of Editis, in particular despite the recent takeover of Educlever (e-learning) and the entry into the capital of Meet in Cl (school support). “The departure of Catherine Lucet (who supervised the education branch) who is a great professional recognized by the entire sector is not very reuring…”

4. The Kretinsky era (2023 -?)

Will the very probable takeover by Daniel Kretinsky be synonymous with a new start for the French number two in publishing? “The buyer will end up with Hachette as its main French rival, owned by Vivendi, which knows all the workings of Editis. It’s far from ideal. Vivendi knows the advances of the authors of Editis, the salaries of the editors, the details of the contracts of Interforum with third companies, notes a former executive of Editis. This is what had already happened when the Lagardère group had control of the two ets for a very long time twenty years ago. We can see what the trajectories of Hachette and Editis were then…”

Nothing says that it will be the same and that the gap will continue to widen between the two French giants. But it is difficult to ignore the many similarities between the two sequences, between the antitrust problem that has been hovering over the Hachette-Editis/Vivendi-Lagardère operation for many months and the obtuse refusal to sell Editis to a French industrialist so as not to see spring a too sharp rival against Hachette. If Marcel Proust said that we always write the same book, the French edition has just relived more or less the same story as twenty years ago. At Editis, where almost half of the teams were there during the time of VUP, we do not despair that new pages will finally open up.

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