John Wiley & Sons, Inc. History

111 River Street
Hoboken, New Jersey 07030-5774

Telephone: (201) 748-6000
Fax: (201) 748-6088

Public Company
Incorporated: 1904
Employees: 3,500
Sales: $922.96 million (2004)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbols: Jwa; JWb
NAIC: 511120 Periodical Publishers; 511130 Book Publishers; 516110 Internet Publishing and Broadcasting

Company Perspectives:

Wiley's goal is to anticipate and serve our customer's professional and personal needs for knowledge and understanding while generating financial results that yield attractive returns for all members of the Wiley partnership: employees, authors, and shareholders.

Key Dates:

Charles Wiley opens a small printing shop in New York City.
Wiley shifts the focus of his business from printing to publishing and bookselling.
Wiley dies, leaving the business to his son, John Wiley.
John Wiley's oldest son, Charles, becomes involved in the business, which begins using the name John Wiley & Son.
The company adopts the name John Wiley & Sons after John Wiley's son William Halsted Wiley comes onboard; W.H. Wiley is instrumental in the company's move into textbooks and science and technology publishing.
The company is incorporated as John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
The first overseas subsidiary is established in the United Kingdom.
Interscience Publishers is acquired.
The company makes its first public offering of stock.
Andrew H. Neilly, Jr., becomes the first nonfamily member to serve as president and COO.
John Wiley & Sons acquires a 90 percent interest in VCH Publishing Group, a German technical publisher.
Professional book publisher Van Nostrand Reinhold is acquired.
The company initiates the commercial launch of Wiley InterScience, offering online, subscription-based access to journals and reference works in science, technology, and medicine; the company acquires Jossey-Bass, the J.K. Lasser line of tax and financial guides, and a line of textbooks from Pearson PLC.
Hungry Minds, Inc. is acquired in the largest acquisition in company history ($184.1 million).
After 195 years in New York City, John Wiley & Sons relocates to Hoboken, New Jersey.

Company History:

Founded in 1807, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. is a leading publisher of print and electronic products, including reference works and journals in science, technology, and medicine; textbooks and other educational materials; and professional and trade offerings in such areas as business and management, computers and engineering, architecture, culinary arts, and general interest. The company operates worldwide through its headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey, and through foreign subsidiaries in Europe, Asia, Canada, and Australia. Roughly 35 percent of its total sales are derived from outside the United States, while about 25 percent of revenues come via Web-based products. John Wiley & Sons began as a publisher of American fiction writers, then moved into the science and technology segment of the publishing market after the Civil War. From the late 19th century on through the early 21st century, the company has continued to publish academic, professional, and scientific titles, achieving encouraging success as one of the oldest independent companies in all of American industry. Led by a succession of Wiley family members, John Wiley & Sons by 2002 had Peter Booth Wiley, a great-great-great-grandson of the company's founder, serving as chairman. Management of day-to-day operations, however, was in the hands of William J. Pesce, president and CEO, a position held by a nonfamily member since 1971.

In the early 1980s, W. Bradford Wiley uttered the obvious when he told a reporter from Publishers Weekly, "I guess you can say that we Wileys are survivors." In reference to a family whose business dated from the time of the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, this comment was an understatement. Chairman of John Wiley & Sons at the time, W. Bradford Wiley was the great-great grandson of the company's founder, who established a business during the dawn of the 19th century that would employ generation after generation of Wiley family members. Over the course of nearly two centuries the Wiley name has been closely linked to the publishing industry, a span of time that nearly encompasses the existence of the United States and charts the family tree of one of the oldest dynasties in American business. From the founder of the company to W. Bradford Wiley, to Peter Booth Wiley, a long line of Wileys--aided increasingly in later years by nonfamily members--has orchestrated the growth and perpetuation of a publishing empire.

Early History

The founder of John Wiley & Sons was not John Wiley, but his father Charles Wiley, the first of numerous Wileys to earn his money in the publishing business. In 1807 Charles Wiley opened a small printing shop alongside One Reade Street in New York City. Framed by a paperhanging shop on one side and a soapmaking shop on the other, Charles Wiley's business was a modest one, a trait of John Wiley & Sons that would continue to characterize the company for more than a century. Early on, however, the small shop on Reade Street played an integral role in the emergence of the American literary movement.

During its first years in a young country, Charles Wiley's small printing shop served as a bastion for the nation's struggling yet superlative writers. Among the roster of notable writers whose words went to print at the shop on Reade Street were Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and James Fenimore Cooper. Each was an associate of Charles Wiley, who helped establish Cooper as perhaps the first major American novelist by publishing The Spy in 1821. (By 1820, Charles Wiley had refocused his business on publishing and bookselling, hiring outsiders to do the printing.) All of these famous authors outlived the instrumental Charles Wiley, however, who died in 1826, leaving the business he had founded to his son, John Wiley.

When he took control of the Wiley publishing business in 1826, John Wiley was only 18 years old, but his youth did not prevent the second generation of the Wiley publishing family from taking the company in new directions. John Wiley continued where his father had left off by bringing the words of American writers to the public, but he also embraced the English literary scene by shifting the company's geographic stance overseas, making the Wiley business the first American publisher to offer royalties to foreign authors. To a list that already included Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, and Cooper, John Wiley added such distinguished English literary figures as Charles Dickens, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. During his tenure, John Wiley also launched Literary World, a book trade weekly that was in publication from 1847 to 1853, representing a precursor to the influential Publishers Weekly, which held sway in the publishing world during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Other business avenues were pursued as well, including John Wiley's foray into selling nonbook items. The sale of pencils, school slates, violins, and stereoscopic equipment and pictures was added to the Wiley business, lending a hint of diversification to the operations more than a century before such strategic moves would become a prevalent aspect of corporate existence. Also noteworthy during this period was the involvement of John Wiley's oldest son, Charles, starting in 1850, whereupon the business became known as John Wiley & Son.

The association the Wiley business had with the 19th century's greatest writers gave the company a unique and pivotal role in the development of the American publishing community. For the future of the company itself, though, the next Wiley to assume command of the company would direct the publisher toward one of the main paths it would pursue through the early 21st century. The years of disseminating the country's greatest literary works were over for the company. Ahead was the entry into a significant new segment of the publishing market for the company.

Post-Civil War Shift in Business Focus

Taking over during the years following the American Civil War was William Halsted Wiley, the second son of John Wiley and a former soldier for the Union Army (because of the latter, he was also known as "the Major"). Aside from being the second son of John Wiley to join the business--accounting for a change in the company name to John Wiley & Sons in 1875--William Wiley exerted a definitive influence on the firm. Trained as an engineer, the grandson of the company's founder instilled his passion for engineering and the sciences in the company he led, transforming John Wiley & Sons into a different type of publisher. Under William Wiley's stewardship, the company began publishing textbooks and professional books, a strategy that would fuel its growth for the remainder of the 19th century and carry John Wiley & Sons into the 20th century. In 1904, meantime, the company was incorporated.

By 1914, when annual sales exceeded $300,000, four decades of operating as a publisher focused on science and technology books had propelled the company forward. Between 1875 and the beginning of World War I, John Wiley & Sons' sales volume tripled, as did its payroll, which by the mid-1910s numbered 18 workers. Instead of publishing the novels of Melville and Dickens, the company was making its money in another field, earning its largest profits from publishing books on mechanical and electrical engineering. Such would be the future of the company, as it focused its efforts on the less glamorous, yet nevertheless profitable, science and professional side of publishing. In addition to this new core, John Wiley & Sons diversified into social sciences and business management publishing during the first few decades of the 20th century and gained a stronger presence in postsecondary educational publishing. By 1929, sales reached the $1 million mark for the first time, and then surpassed $2 million by 1941.

During World War II, John Wiley & Sons' business received a boost after several of the company's texts were adopted for use in training armed forces personnel, one of the lucrative markets opened up to the company as a scientifically and technologically oriented publisher. Another lucrative market for John Wiley & Sons expanded dramatically after the conclusion of World War II, when college enrollment swelled across the country, as veterans returned home and economic prosperity spread from coast to coast. Sales of textbooks climbed steadily as college enrollment rose in the United States, while in Asia and in Europe, where countries struggled to rebuild themselves in the postwar era, the demand for textbooks increased as well. John Wiley & Sons answered the call by exporting titles to Europe and Asia, substantially increasing the company's international business.

Post-World War II Growth

It was during this postwar upswing in business that W. Bradford Wiley, the great-grandson of John Wiley, rose to the top of John Wiley & Sons' executive ranks, becoming president of the company in 1956. The company's first overseas subsidiary was established three years later in London, touching off a period of international expansion that over a two-decade period would see John Wiley & Sons foreign subsidiaries established in Canada, Australia, Latin America, India, and Singapore. On the domestic front, John Wiley & Sons sidestepped the prevailing trend toward consolidations and takeovers that produced numerous conglomerate corporations during the 1960s. Despite eschewing the corporate maneuvers of the day, John Wiley & Sons did go public early in the 1960s, making its initial public offering of stock in 1962. It also executed several acquisitions during the decade, most notable of which was its 1961 purchase of Interscience Publishers, which substantially strengthened John Wiley & Sons' list of scientific titles and for the first time steered the company into the area of encyclopedia and journal publishing.

After serving as president for 15 years, W. Bradford Wiley ascended to the top of John Wiley & Sons' executive ranks in 1971, the year he was named chairman of the company, and then during the ensuing decade watched over the family business as it evolved into a thoroughly modern corporation. Also in 1971, Andrew H. Neilly, Jr., became the first nonfamily member to be named president and COO. After establishing a medical division in 1973, which a decade later would publish an average of 60 medical titles a year, W. Bradford Wiley took steps toward repositioning the company to compete in the future. Titles were grouped into product lines, and in 1978 John Wiley & Sons' business activities were restructured into four major groups, comprising the company's professional, educational, international, and medicine business areas.

By the beginning of the 1980s, as it had done for decades, John Wiley & Sons ranked as a leading publisher of textbooks and professional books in science and technology, with offices situated around the globe. In its 175th year of business, the company generated record high totals in sales and earnings, collecting $137 million in sales and earning slightly more than $10 million, fueling confidence that the years after 1982 would continue to bring robust growth. The company by this point in its lengthy history was publishing more than 1,000 titles, 50 percent more than a decade earlier, and with the groundwork laid for John Wiley & Sons' expansion into electronic publishing, expectations ran high, with company officials projecting $300 million in annual sales by 1987. The company's 175th year of business, however, marked the beginning of bad times. Quickly, confidence was replaced by consternation.

Faltering Steps During the 1980s

Amid the celebrations heralding the company's 175th year of business and its record financial highs, John Wiley & Sons acquired Wilson Learning Group, a company founded in 1965 by Larry Wilson, co-author of The One Minute Sales Person. A creator of training programs for businesses, Wilson Learning Group added a new facet to John Wiley & Sons' operations, giving the publishing company a new enterprise to help offset flagging book sales. Starting in the late 1970s, college enrollment in the United States began to ebb, causing the sales of college textbooks to drop as well. The sale of such books accounted for one-third of John Wiley & Sons' total annual sales, and as the growth of college textbooks fell from double-digit percentage figures, the Wiley publishing firm began to feel the pinch. By 1984, the growth rate of college textbook sales had dropped to 4.8 percent, significantly weakening one of John Wiley & Sons' chief markets. If help was expected from the 1982 acquisition of Wilson Learning Group, it did not materialize. The subsidiary had been given considerable autonomy, but that proved to be its undoing, as Wilson Learning Group recorded robust growth--expanding at a 30 percent clip--but posted paltry profits.

In 1986 Wilson Learning Group registered a $754,000 loss, prompting one John Wiley & Sons official to remark that the subsidiary was "growing in an undisciplined manner." Two years later, the subsidiary lost a deleterious $2.2 million, which, coupled with John Wiley & Sons' difficulties in the college textbook market, left the publisher hobbled. In 1988 John Wiley & Sons earned $4.7 million on $241 million in sales, totals that when compared with the record year of 1982 pointed to serious problems. In 1982 the company earned more than twice as much as it did six years later on slightly more than half the sales volume, a phenomenon that no one at John Wiley & Sons wanted to perpetuate.

Ruth McMullin, who was recruited from General Electric Company, was hired in 1987 as chief operating officer to lead John Wiley & Sons toward recovery. When McMullin was talking with a Forbes reporter two years after joining the publishing firm, she reflected on her assessment of the company at the time. "It was clear this company became complacent about its uninterrupted record of success," McMullin noted, "and complacency led to an inattention to being tough and disciplined." To bring back these qualities, McMullin reorganized John Wiley & Sons' businesses into three divisions--educational, professional and trade, and training--and sold much of the company's floundering medical division, as well as closing the company's West Coast distribution center. Further changes were in the offing, as John Wiley & Sons entered the 1990s and steadily moved toward complete recovery.

Recovery in the Early 1990s

A new management team took over during the early 1990s. Charles R. Ellis was named president and CEO in 1990; Bradford Wiley II, the son of W. Bradford Wiley and the great-great-great-grandson of the founder, succeeded his father as chairman in 1993. John Wiley & Sons began the decade with the launch of a sweeping strategic program aimed at restoring the company's profitability. The program called for the divestiture of poorly performing businesses, the strengthening of core businesses, and entry into new niches of the publishing market; its success restored the image of one of the country's oldest companies.

In 1991 the failing Wilson Learning Group subsidiary was sold, yielding John Wiley & Sons $30 million, and a medical book series was divested. A year that saw the company's college textbook sales record an encouraging gain also brought a new entity into John Wiley & Sons' fold. The law publications division of Professional Education Systems, Inc. was acquired, giving the company entry into a new publishing niche and marking the beginning of a concerted attempt to build John Wiley & Sons into a publisher of legal-oriented titles. Further gains were recorded in this area in 1992, when the company acquired Chancery Law Publishing Ltd. in the United Kingdom and the paralegal publishing line belonging to the James Publishing Group in the United States. By 1993, John Wiley & Sons' college division was recording double-digit leaps in revenues, concurrent with international expansion in Europe and Asia.

In a few short years during the early 1990s, John Wiley & Sons regained the luster lost during the middle and late 1980s. By 1995, after recording 14 consecutive quarters of earnings increases, the company was generating $331 million in sales and posting $18.3 million in net income, achieving performance levels company executives had projected to reach nearly a decade earlier. Despite the less-than-spectacular performance demonstrated during the 1980s, John Wiley & Sons was firmly positioned for strong growth during the later 1990s, its nearly 200-year-old presence in the publishing business and its resolute recovery during the early 1990s sparking confidence for the future.

Late 1990s, Early 2000s: Major Acquisitions, Electronic Initiatives

This confidence proved to be well placed, as John Wiley & Sons grew at an accelerating pace during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sparking this growth was a multipronged approach encompassing organic growth, acquisitions, strategic alliances, and an increasing emphasis on electronic distribution. The first major acquisition of this era--and at the time of its completion, the largest in company history--was the 1996 purchase for $99 million of a 90 percent interest in VCH Publishing Group, a German technical publisher whose output included about 100 scholarly journals and more than 500 books annually. Many of the other major acquisitions, however, were completed by the company's professional/trade business unit. The first of these was the 1997 purchase of Van Nostrand Reinhold (VNR) from Thomson Corporation for about $28 million. VNR specialized in professional books in such areas as architecture and design, environmental and industrial science, culinary arts and hospitality, and business technology. Also in 1997 John Wiley & Sons sold its law publications division for $26.5 million, having decided it could not effectively compete with larger players in that field, and William J. Pesce was named COO. Pesce had joined the firm in 1989 as head of the educational publishing unit, leading it through the company's restructuring. In May 1998 Pesce was named president and CEO, succeeding Ellis.

The year 1997 also saw the first launch of Wiley InterScience, destined to become the centerpiece of the company's electronic distribution efforts. Initially offered free of charge, this online service was relaunched commercially in January 1999, providing access to more than 300 journals and major reference works in science, technology, and medicine on a subscription basis. By 2003, John Wiley & Sons was generating 25 percent of its revenues from Web-based products, principally from Wiley InterScience.

John Wiley & Sons made three more significant acquisitions in 1999, two of which involved the U.K.-based Pearson PLC. The company spent about $58 million to acquire more than 50 college textbooks and other instructional packages from Pearson Education. On the professional/trade side, John Wiley & Sons bought Pearson's Jossey-Bass unit for $82 million and the J.K. Lasser line of tax and financial guides from IDG Books Worldwide, Inc. for an undisclosed sum. San Francisco-based Jossey-Bass published books and journals for professionals and executives in the fields of business, psychology, education, and health management.

In mid-2001 John Wiley & Sons bought Wrightbooks Pty Ltd., an Australian publisher of personal investment books. The company followed up with its largest acquisition yet, the purchase of Hungry Minds, Inc. (the former IDG Books Worldwide) in September 2001 for $184.1 million in cash and assumed debt. Also based in New York, Hungry Minds was best known as the publisher of the "For Dummies" series of how-to books but also published the Bible and the Visual technological series for programmers, Cliffs Notes study guides, Frommer's travel guides, Betty Crocker and Weight Watchers cookbooks, and Webster's New World dictionaries. This acquisition significantly bolstered John Wiley & Sons' professional/trade division, increasing the division's portion of overall company revenues from one-third to significantly more than one-half. In 2001 this division also acquired Frank J. Fabozzi Publishing, publisher of finance titles for the professional and academic markets.

During 2002 Bradford Wiley II's brother, Peter Booth Wiley, was named chairman, with Bradford remaining on the board of directors. John Wiley & Sons also left Manhattan after 195 years in the city. Having outgrown its New York offices, the company was attracted to New Jersey by tax incentives that reward companies for creating jobs. About 800 employees moved into the new headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey, in July 2002.

Thanks to the company's string of acquisitions, and its emphasis on strategic alliances and electronic distribution, John Wiley & Sons posted record revenues in 2003 of $854 million, a 16 percent increase over the previous year, and record net income (excluding unusual items) of $76.7 million, an 18 percent jump. Since 1993 the company enjoyed compounded annual revenue growth of 12 percent, while earnings had concurrently increased at a compound annual rate of 26 percent. Revenues grew another 8 percent in 2004, reaching $923 million--one or two years' growth away from the $1 billion mark. Net income surged another 16 percent, hitting $88.8 million. As it neared its bicentennial, John Wiley & Sons was expected to continue its reign as one of the oldest companies in the United States and as one of the preeminent publishers in American business history.

Principal Subsidiaries: John Wiley & Sons (Asia) Pte. Ltd. (Singapore); John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.; John Wiley & Sons Canada Limited; John Wiley & Sons (HK) Limited (Hong Kong); Wiley Europe Limited (U.K.); Wiley Publishing, Inc.; Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA (Germany).

Principal Competitors: Reed Elsevier Group PLC; The Thomson Corporation; Pearson PLC; Bertelsmann AG; The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.; Wolters Kluwer N.V.; Houghton Mifflin Company.

Further Reading:

  • "Aggressive Marketing Helps John Wiley Book Steady Gains," Barron's, May 1, 1978, pp. 40+.
  • Anthony, Carolyn T., "John Wiley at 175," Publishers Weekly, September 24, 1982, pp. 42-46.
  • Baehr, Guy T., "Publisher Moving Its HQ to Hoboken," Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger, August 10, 2000, p. 43.
  • Block, Valerie, "Wiley Writes Next Chapter: To Grow with Acquisitions," Crain's New York Business, June 21, 1999, p. 4.
  • Clendenning, Alan, "John Wiley Buying 'Dummies' Publisher," Bergen County (N.J.) Record, August 14, 2001, p. L7.
  • Denitto, Emily, "William J. Pesce: Getting a Read on Growth," Crain's New York Business, May 5, 1997, p. 13.
  • Milliot, Jim, "Pesce, New Wiley Chief, to Focus on Core Businesses," Publishers Weekly, July 27, 1998, p. 10.
  • ------, "Revenues Jump 20% at John Wiley in Fiscal 2002," Publishers Weekly, July 1, 2002, p. 9.
  • ------, "Wiley Posts Double-Digit Gains in Sales, Earnings," Publishers Weekly, June 23, 2003, p. 9.
  • Moore, John Hammond, Wiley: One Hundred and Seventy-Five Years of Publishing, New York: Wiley, 1982.
  • Poole, Claire, "Stubborn Patriarch," Forbes, February 6, 1989, p. 99.
  • Reid, Calvin, "Wiley Acquires VCH," Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1996, p. 22.
  • ------, "Wiley Buys Hungry Minds," Publishers Weekly, August 20, 2001, p. 16.
  • "Unique Publishing Niche Pays Off in Impressive Way for John Wiley," Barron's, May 13, 1968, pp. 32+
  • "Wiley's Long March," Forbes, November 22, 1982, p. 155.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 65. St. James Press, 2004.