Blackwell’s, the family-owned academic bookseller, is reportedly in talks with potential buyers after ditching plans to sell the firm to its employees.
Blackwell’s has been privately owned for 143 years, and this is the first time the owners have considered selling the business after calling off plans to hand ownership to staff.
The company is understood to have considered refinancing last year, which would have seen the current structure converted and owned by its roughly 350 staff, but due to the pandemic, this has become impractical.
Sky News reported that the firm has now appointed corporate financiers to oversee a sale process. And some sources have said that discussions with prospective buyers have been underway for some time and that a deal was possible in the coming months.
Blackwell’s has been owned by its founding family since 1879 when the first store opened in Oxford. It is one of Britain’s oldest booksellers and has been a permanent fixture on many University campuses. The firm currently trades from 18 stores, including the Blackwell’s flagship store on Oxford’s Broad Street, and online.
The sale process comes amidst a shake-up in the books retail sector in which the company faced plenty of disruption from online giants and through chains such as Waterstones and Daunt Books.
In response to an enquiry from Sky News, David Prescott, Blackwell’s Chief Executive, said: “The sale of Blackwell’s represents a genuinely unique and exciting opportunity for any potential buyer to own a much loved and trusted bookselling brand.”
“The business has been quietly and successfully transitioning itself in recent years to establish a substantial global online presence alongside a core portfolio of iconic shops.”
“We hope that a new owner and investment will help us to secure a long-term future for Blackwell’s and its booksellers for many years to come.”
“As we look to start a new chapter for the company, I’d like to publicly thank Toby [Blackwell, the controlling shareholder] for his support and commitment over many, many years without him, Blackwell’s simply wouldn’t be here today.”
Mr Blackwell, who is also president of the company, said he “would have loved to have handed over the company to its staff, but I also accept that in order to grow and remain competitive in the future, it is time for new ownership, ideas and investment”.
“I have always stood for innovation and transformation in the constantly changing world of bookselling,” he added.
“I am delighted to have supported, and now see, Blackwell’s become a significant player in online bookselling and to have helped keep alive the concepts of service and expertise so well embodied by our chairman and board and our wonderful staff.”
In its statement, Blackwell’s said that like for like sales in 2021 had grown by 1.9%.
It is believed that a buyer would be expected to pay a modest, multi-million-pound sum for the business.