Books etc. The newly-established Welbeck Publishing Group, founded in the UK by Mark Smith (ex Bonnier) and Marcus Leaver (ex Quarto Group), has acquired the 27-year-old Carlton Books, publisher of illustrated books for adults and children, specialising in topics like entertainment, history, sport, arts, lifestyle, and puzzles. Its imprints include: Goodman, André Deutsch, Prion, and Carlton Kids. Carlton’s revenue fell 26% in 2017 to £10.8m with operating profit down 81% to under £300k, largely as a result of the end of a colouring book boom. Welbeck aims to grow through further acquisitions.
Interestingly, the Welbeck investors include the privately-owned Think Publishing. The under-stated London-based custom media company, which specialises in media mainly for B2B membership organisations, has revenue of some £15m, 80 staff and more than 42 clients served by offices in London and Glasgow. CEO and co-founder Ian McAuliffe says the company (co-owned with his wife Tilly) does “what it says on the tin. We are a membership communications agency. We specialise in publishing and all the things that are associated with it… sponsorship, events, exhibitions, digital, and email for membership clients. We do have a few traditional customer publishing clients, like First Great Western, the Preferred Hotels Group and others, but we specialise in membership and that’s one of our key differences.” In an era when most corporates are chasing members of one sort and another, Think is in a sweet spot.
Another distinctive feature of the 20-year-old company’s approach may be the consumer-magazine quality of its publications, even for some quite err narrow business and professional organisations. Think’s clients love it. In 2017, the company acquired the financially fragile Wanderlust magazine (which had losses of £336k that year). The 25-year-old publication offers scope for all kinds of diversification once the economics are sorted. It all seems to underline McAuliffe’s ambition to diversify using his company’s skills and profitability. We might expect further deals including self-owned B2B magazines, digital media and events – to balance Think’s portfolio of client contracts. Perhaps they will also take their membership media expertise beyond the UK by establishing low-cost joint ventures and partnerships in international markets.
The question might be whether the much-awarded Think Publishing starts to fulfil its wider ambitions before or after a private equity or media investor comes to call.