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Holtzbrinck Group


This profile deals with the Holtzbrinck publishing group.

It covers -

  • introduction
  • history
  • holdings
  • Macmillan
  • Holt and FSG
  • German imprints
  • Die Zeit


The German von Holtzbrinck group competes with Bertelsmann and Pearson. Like Bertelsmann it has aggressively expanded into publishing in the US and UK over the past decade.

The group's history has been distinguished by an emphasis on quality rather than tabloid publishing, long-term profitability and considerable autonomy for book and journal publishers. It has thus been attractive to owners and managers of valuable brands interested in gaining a financially powerful parent without surrendering operational independence.


Founder Georg von Holtzbrinck was born in 1909 and gained control in 1937 of the Bibliothek der Unterhaltung und des Wissens, a Stuttgart-based book club founded in 1876. In 1948 Holtzbrinck rebadged the Bibliothek as the Stuttgarter Hausbücherei, which became the Deutscher Bücherbund in 1959.

Holtzbrinck acquired the prestigious Samuel Fischer Verlag - publisher of Mann, Freud, Ibsen, Fontane and other luminaries - in 1963. Amid large-scale consolidation within German publishing - led by Bertelsmann - Holtzbrinck acquired 49% of Kindler Verlag, 26% of Ernst Rowohlt Verlag (with a dominant stake in printer Clausen & Bosse) and 46% of Droemer Knaur, three major upmarket hardcover and paperback publishers. In 1968 it expanded into the periodicals market by acquiring 50% of the Verlagsgruppe Handelsblatt, centred on the Dusseldorf-based Handelsblatt business daily newspaper. In 1970 it took a major stake in the Saarbrücker Zeitung, forming Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck as a holding company in 1971 and gradually increasing its stake in part-owned subsidiaries.

The Handelsblatt merged in 1970 with Industriekurier, its main competitor and publisher of Wirtschaftswoche, the weekly business magazine that traced its origins to the 1926 Der Deutsche Volkswirt. By the end of the decade Holtzbrinck held 80% of the enlarged Handelsblatt (with significantly higher circulation) and 100% of Kindler and Droemer. It acquired the monthly investment magazine DM in 1977, gaining 25% of the daily Südkurier newspaper and a 40% stake in Ulm-based printer Franz Spiegel Buch GmbH.

Holtzbrinck sold its book club operations, under the Deutsche Büchergemeinschaft badge, to Leo Kirch for DM250m in 1989. Verlagsgruppe Handelsblatt absorbed business information database GENIOS in 1986, adopting a similar path to Pearson's Economist, before taking control of Swiss economic research institute Prognos in 1990. In 1986 Holtzbrinck acquired the Scientific American for $US52.6 million before absorbing US textbook publisher Worth, W.H. Freeman, Hanley & Belfus and Henry Holt & Co.

In 1993 it bought Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel, acquiring US publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1994. That year it acquired German business news service Vereinigte Wirtschaftsdienste (VWD) and Czech publisher Economia in partnership with Dow Jones. A year later Holtzbrinck paid DM600 million for 71.1% of London-based Macmillan, at that time the largest independent publisher in the UK. The Macmillan acquisition included US publisher St Martin's Press and subsidiaries in 20 countries, including Australia. Holtzbrinck now controls all of Macmillan.

Holtzbrinck's investment in German television production and broadcasting attracted criticism (notably from competitor Axel Springer); it subsequently sold its stake in the Sat.1 channel to Kirch and its 14.5% stake in VOX television to Bertelsmann. During 1995 Holtzbrinck acquired schoolbook publisher Verlag Moritz Diesterweg, Swiss publisher Scherz Verlag and the prestigious German weekly Die Zeit.

The group's New Media arm, established in 1995, has included minor radio and television production/broadcast operations, electronic publishers such as Voyager Company and Systhema Verlag, and minority stakes in internet enterprises such as Infoseek Germany, Booxtra, Immowelt, Xipolis, and The Motley Fool Germany. Most were spun off as holtzbrinck networXs AG in 2000.

In 1998 Holtzbrinck took a minority stake in German publisher Kiepenheuer & Witsch. A year later Holtzbrinck merged some of its Droemer publishing arm with Augsburg-based magazine publisher Weltbild (originally owned by the Roman Catholic Church and a counterpart to Bayard), with a 50% stake in the resultant Verlagsgruppe Droemer Weltbild holding company that included publishing, some 100 Weltbild book stores and a major mail-order database.

During the same year it announced a strategic alliance with Dow Jones, gaining a 49% stake in the European Wall Street Journal and Dow taking 22% of Handelsblatt in the face of growing competition from the Financial Times.

In 2002 it sold its interests in 12 German radio stations and its 27.8% stake in news channel n-tv to RTL.

The group is family owned and is estimated to have sales of around US$2.5 billion.

A chronology of the group's development is here.


An indication of the group's imprints is here.


Macmillan was founded in 1843 by Daniel and Alexander Macmillan. Apart from publishing Charles Kingsley, Thomas Hughes, Lewis Carroll, Tennyson, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Lewis Namier, WB Yeats and JM Keynes the Macmillans were responsible for Nature (launched in 1869), the Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians (1877) and Palgrave's Dictionary of Political Economy (1899).

The major studies are Macmillan: a Publishing Tradition (Basingstoke: Palgrave 2002) edited by Elizabeth James, Charles Morgan's The House of Macmillan, 1843-1943, With An Epilogue (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1970) - first published in 1944 and very reverential - and Richard Davenport-Hines' The Macmillans (London: Heinemann 1992). Insights are offered by Alistair Horne's two volume official biography of Harold Macmillan, Simon Nowell-Smith's Letters to Macmillan (London: Macmillan 1967), George Worth's Macmillan’s Magazine, l859–l907 (Aldershot: Ashgate 2003) and Alan Maclean's No, I tell a lie, it was the Tuesday : a trudge through the life and times of Alan Maclean (London: Kyle Cathie 1997).

For Macmillan's US operations see volumes two to four of John Tebbel's A History of Book Publishing In America (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1972-81).

Holt and FSG

Henry Holt was established in 1873 by the literateur of the same name (1840-1926), distinguished for the 1923 autobiographical Garrulities of an Octogenarian Editor. Henry Holt & Co merged with Rinehart & Winston in 1960 to form Holt Rinehart Winston, acquired by CBS and then by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1986 before being purchased by Holtzbrinck in 1987. The imprint's early history is examined in Ellen Gilbert's The House of Holt, 1866-1946: An Editorial History (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press 1993) and Charles Madison's The Owl Among Colophons: Henry Holt as Publisher and Editor (New York: Holt Rinehart Winston 1966).

Farrar Straus Giroux (FSG) dates from 1946 when Farrar, Straus & Company was founded by John Farrar (earlier the co-founder of Farrar & Rinehart), Roger Straus III and James Van Alen. Its first list included James Branch Cabell's There Were Two Pirates and Theodor Reik's Ritual: Psychoanalytic Studies. Gayelord Hauser's 1950 Look Younger, Live Longer sold 300,000 copies that year (with another 500,000 during the following decade) when the house was rebadged as Farrar Straus & Young, supporting work of more lasting value such as Edmund Wilson's Classics & Commercials. In 1951 Farrar acquired Creative Age Press, absorbing Ariel Books and Pellegrini & Cudahy in 1953, with Sheila Cudahy becoming a partner and the renamed Farrar, Straus & Company then becoming Farrar, Straus & Cudahy in 1955. At that time Robert Giroux (former editor-in-chief of Harcourt Brace & Co) became editor-in-chief and vice-president, bringing with him Flannery O'Connor, T S Eliot and Bernard Malamud.

In 1957 FS&C acquired L. C. Page & Co, buying McMullen Books, a religious publisher, in 1958 and Noonday Press in 1960. It was rebadged as Farrar Straus Giroux in 1964. FSG acquired Octagon Books in 1968 and Hill & Wang in 1971.

Hill & Wang had been founded by Lawrence Hill (d1988) and Arthur Wang (1918-2005) in 1956 after their departure from publisher A A Wyn; Wang was a Wyn editor and Hill ts sales manager. They bought backlist books from Wyn and started Dramabooks, with Eric Bentley as adviser, publishing plays in trade paperback. Hill & Wang authors included Arthur Kopit, Lanford Wilson, Langston Hughes and Roland Barthes.

L C Page & Company dated from 1896 when Lewis Coues Page (d1956) acquired and renamed the Joseph Knight Company. Page built a profile as a publisher of contemporaries such as d'Annunzio, the Rudolph Valentino of purple prose, and classics such as Dickens, Scott, Dumas and Hugo. Publication of juvenile series such as Lucy Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and Eleanor Porter's odious Pollyanna (the blockbuster of 1913 with sales of over a million copies) was more profitable. Page was acquired by Farrar, Straus & Cudahy in 1957. FSG discontinued the L C Page imprint in 1980.

The group was responsible for initial US publication of works such as Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, Robert Lowell's For the Union Dead, John Berryman's 77 Dream Songs, Carlo Levi's Christ Stopped at Eboli, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, Alberto Moravia's The Woman of Rome, Malamud's The Fixer, John McPhee's Giving Good Weight and Oscar Hijuelos's The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

In 1994 Holtzbrinck acquired a controlling interest.

German imprints

The S. Fischer publishing house was founded in 1886 by Samuel Fischer (1859-1934) and during the Kaiserzeit and Weimar period was perhaps Germany's most prominent literary publishing house, responsible for authors such as Ibsen, the brothers Mann, Hesse and Hauptmann. Aryanisation of publishing under the Nazis saw Gottfried Bermann Fischer move to Vienna, with German operations continuing - as S Fischer - under Peter Suhrkamp. Postwar disagreements saw a division of the reunited units in 1950, with G B Fischer gaining S Fischer and Peter Suhrkamp taking some authors in founding the Suhrkamp publishing house.

There has been no major English-language study of Samuel or Gottfried Bermann Fischer. Germanists should consult the latter's autobiography Bedroht - Bewahrt (Frankfurt am Main: S Fischer 1981) and Peter de Mendelssohn's outstanding S Fischer und sein Verlag (Frankfurt: Fischer 1970). There is extensive documentation in 100 Jahre S Fischer, 1886-1986 Das Klassische Program, Ein Lesebuch (Frankfurt: Fischer 1986) and Almanach Das Siebzigste Jahr 1886-1956 (Frankfurt: Fischer 1956).

Die Zeit

There has been no major English-language study of Die Zeit or its founder Gerd Bucerius, a major owner of the Gruner+Jahr magazine group now controlled by Bertelsmann. Ralf Dahrendorf's Liberal & Unabhängig: Gerd Bucerius und seine Zeit (Munich: Beck 2001) has yet to be translated.

Editor Marion Donhoff's Before the Storm: Memoirs Of My Youth In Old Prussia (New York: Knopf 1990) is one of the finer accounts of life before Hitler.