ON FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich stock went up five and five-eights points and then suspended trading. Something was definitely in the wind, and the jungle telegraph tapped out to the message, "Somebody made an offer for Jove." But who? Among the most-repeated names - Twentieth Century Fox and the Hearst Corporation. Also heard were: Columbia Pictures, Transamerica and even MCA Universal, which already owns a publishing conglomerate - Putnam, Coward, Berkley.
By Monday, the story began to unfold. Jove was up for sale in the third quarterly report of the corporation's year. HBJ reported to its shareholders that it was assuming "the disposal of Jove (mass market paperbacks) under a plan recently authorized by the board of directors" and reiterated that "HBJ plans to dispose of Jove."
Imagine the surprise of those Jove employees who don't receive or read shareholder's reports. Their telephones were ringing all day. Jove's publisher and editor-in-chief, Sondra Ordover, didn't return from [WORD ILLEGIBLE] until Wednesday. As she is also a vice-president of HBJ Corporate, it was assumed that she had had an inkling.
Meetings were called, some of them quite tense, and it became impossible to reach anybody there. We hear that William Jovanovich, HBJ's chairman and the eponymous overload of Jove, wasn't at those meetings. Some say they haven't seen him since the report was made public.
It's no disgrace to be sold or bought - every paperback house has been acquired at least once, Dell and Bantam, several times. Jove was once Pyramid, and when its name was changed to match Jovanovich's, it had a number-one best seller, one of John Jakes' immensely profitable bicentennial series. They're again in that favored position, with Marilyn French's The Women's Room, so, from a business point of view, it's the perfect time to sell. Yet, if I'd owned Jove, I think I would have told my employees before I told my stockholders.
But then Jovanovich didn't get to be chairman by being me.
Acquistions are like love affairs - some are consumated immediately, while others take weeks. We don't know at this writing who Jove will be going to bed with next, but my wager is on Fox. Whoever gets the house will be buying a lot of good talent and energy, and - in Ordover - a whole of smarts.