Penguin Random House has acquired majority ownership of Brazilian trade publishing house Companhia das Letras. Penguin first invested in the company in 2012, taking a 45% share in it from the stakeholders, which include co-founders Luiz Schwarcz and Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, as well as the Moreira Salles family.
Companhia das Letras is among the most prestigious literary publishers in Brazil and with some 4,500 titles in print. Initially, the company exploited the partnership with Penguin by introducing a line of Penguin Classics to Brazil. Penguin also published several translations from Brazil of classic titles acquired from Compendia das Letras.
“This strategic acquisition enables us to increase our reach in South America and in the Portuguese-language market,” said PRH in a press release announcing the purchase.
Luiz Schwarcz, who is one of the most highly respected editors in Brazil and whose name is synonymous with the company, will continue as as CEO and chairman of the board. Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, will also stay on as chief content officer and member of the board.
The announcement of PRH’s acquisition comes at a difficult moment for Brazil’s publishing industry. Last week, the bookstore chain Livraria Cultura—which has 15 stores, including a Sao Paolo location frequently cited among the most beautiful bookstores in the world— filed for bankruptcy protection. The trade journal PublishNews reported that the retailer is estimated to be 70 million reals ($19 million) in debt.
On Monday, Brazil’s largest bookstore chain, Saraiva, announced it was closing 20 stores, citing a shrinking book market and online competition as the catalyst. It will be left with some 80 bookstores, down from more than 100 at the start of the year.
Brazil’s book market began having serious problems in 2014, as a political and economic crisis gripped the country. It is estimated to have fallen by as much as 40% in revenue since that time. It seems, as well, that conditions are unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future. The recent election of far right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro as President of Brazil does not bode well for the book business, as he has expressed a desire to crackdown on press freedom, and is expected to exert pressure on publishers to curtail criticism. Some fear he may go so far as to centralize some publishing activities under government control.