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|Country of origin||Scotland, UK|
|Headquarters location||Nashville, Tennessee|
|Key people||Mark Schoenwald, President & CEO|
Tom Knight, Senior Vice President, Sales
|Publication types||Bibles, books, curriculum, digital content|
|Revenue||$237.8 million (2005)|
|Owner(s)||HarperCollins (News Corp)|
|No. of employees||Approximately 450|
Thomas Nelson is a publishing firm that began in West Bow, Edinburgh, Scotland in 1798 as the namesake of its founder. It is a subsidiary of HarperCollins, the publishing unit of News Corp. It describes itself as a "world leading publisher and provider of Christian content".
Its most successful title to date is Heaven Is for Real. In Canada, the Nelson imprint is used for educational publishing. In the United Kingdom, it was an independent publisher until 1962, and later became part of the educational imprint Nelson Thornes.
Thomas Nelson Sr. founded the shop that bears his name in Edinburgh in 1798, originally as a second-hand bookshop at 2 West Bow, just off the city's Grassmarket, recognizing a ready market for inexpensive, standard editions of non-copyright works which he attempted to satisfy by publishing reprints of classics. By 1822 the shop had moved to 9 West Bow plus a second shop had opened at 230 High Street, on the Royal Mile.
In 1835 the shop became a company, first as Thomas Nelson & Son when William joined, and in 1839 became Thomas Nelson & Sons when Thomas Jr. entered the business. Thomas Sr. died in 1861 and is buried in the extreme NW corner of Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh. William concentrated his talents on the marketing side, and Thomas Jr. devoted his to editing and production.
The firm became a publisher of new books and, as the 19th century progressed, it produced an increasingly wide range of non-religious materials; by 1881, religion accounted for less than 6% of the firm's output. Its Hope Park Works in Edinburgh burned down in 1878, and the city council allowed temporary accommodation on the Meadows. In appreciation, the company funded the stone pillars at the east end of Melville Drive.
William Nelson died in 1887, and Thomas Jr. died in 1892. They were succeeded by George Brown, Thomas's nephew, who directed the company until Thomas III and Ian, Thomas Jr.'s sons, joined him and John Buchan as partners. Buchan, employed by the firm until 1929, dedicated his novel The Thirty-Nine Steps to Thomas III (Thomas Arthur Nelson) in 1914.
Ian Nelson took over as head of the family firm after Thomas Nelson III's death in action in 1917 during World War I.
By the early 20th century, Thomas Nelson had become a secular concern in the United Kingdom. The First World War led to the temporary rundown of Nelson through the denial of foreign markets, the loss of manpower (including the death of Thomas III), and the general exigencies of wartime, and initiated its long-term decline. Much of the effort expended during the inter-war period represented merely an attempt to reverse that decline, particularly in expanding the education list and reducing the dependence on reprints.
Ian Nelson remained head of the firm until his death in 1958. Ian Nelson's successor, his son Ronnie Nelson, seemed less interested in the successful management of the family firm than previous generations. In 1962, Thomas Nelson and Sons was absorbed into the Thomson Organisation in an effort to sustain its academic and educational publishing interests on a global scale. The presidency of the company then passed to Hubert Peter Morrison FRSE (who had been chairman since 1958). The printing division of Nelsons was sold to the Edinburgh company Morrison and Gibb in 1968.
Until 1968, according to the curators of a Senate House Library exhibition, the company "specialised in producing popular literature, children's books, bibles, religious works and educational texts." It was the first publisher for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The American branch of Thomas Nelson was established in 1854 in New York, and by the 1870s it was one of the city's more important firms. In a December 1873 article on "Holiday Gifts" the New-York Tribune wrote: "Thomas Nelson & Sons, No. 42 Bleecker-st., devote themselves specially to the publications of the Oxford University Press, from which issues a superb variety of Bibles, Prayer-books, and Hymnals. They are printed in every imaginary style, and bound in plain cloth, in calf, in morocco, in Russia[?], in velvet, and in ivory. Besides these books, Messrs. Nelson have an attractive miscellaneous stock, in which a great many children's books appear, and some fine illustrated volumes."
Nelson held the copyright for the American Standard Version of the Bible from 1901 until 1928 when it transferred the copyright to the International Council of Religious Education. In the 1930s, the company made a deal with this council (which later became part of the National Council of Churches) to publish the Revised Standard Version. The firm was sold to The Thomson Organization in 1960, and in 1962, the company failed to meet demand for this Bible translation. This, in turn, led the National Council of Churches to grant other publishers licenses for the work, leading to a dramatic fall in revenue for Nelson.
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In 1950, 19-year-old Sam Moore came to Columbia, South Carolina with an intent to pursue medical training, and he worked his way through college at the University of South Carolina and later Columbia Bible College by selling Bibles door-to-door. Building on his experience, he founded the National Book Company in 1958, and Royal Publishers in 1961. When he began selling stock in the latter firm in 1962, one of his early shareholders was Morrow Coffey Graham, mother of noted evangelist Billy Graham.
Moore led Royal Publishers to success for the next five years, more than doubling sales every year, and resulting in the Thomson Organization asking if he would take control of Nelson's North American operations. Instead, Moore surprised Thomson by offering to purchase Nelson. Moore took over on March 7, 1969, preferring to keep the company's name and logo. In the 1960s, Thomas Nelson moved its headquarters from New York to Camden, New Jersey. It moved again to Nashville, Tennessee in the 1970s. From 1979 to 1982, Nelson developed the New King James Version of the Bible (also known as the Revised Authorized Version) and under Moore began diversifying the company with a gift division.
In 1992, Thomas Nelson Inc. began its modern advancement. Nelson purchased the Word music and books brand from Capital Cities/ABC. In 1997, the company split the two, spinning off the record label and printed music division, one of the largest church music companies, to Gaylord Entertainment. This led to a lawsuit by Gaylord in 2001 over the Word name, and it was settled when Nelson renamed its book division the W Publishing Group. That year also led to a corporate expansion by the purchase of the Cool Springs and Rutledge Hill Press labels.
In 2003, World Bible Publishers was acquired by Nelson, and the fiction label WestBow Press made its debut (all books were later consolidated under the Nelson brand and WestBow Press was resurrected in 2009 to offer self-publishing services). Also, an imprint for Internet news source WorldNetDaily made its debut that year. The agreement dissolved, however, after 2004, and the former WND brand is now under the Nelson Current brand, including its authors.
Thomas Nelson, now based in Nashville, publishes leading Christian authors, including Billy Graham, Max Lucado, John Eldredge, John Maxwell, Charles Stanley, Michael A. O'Donnell, Ted Dekker, John Townsend, and Dave Stone. Thomas Nelson Inc. in 2000 began marketing the Women of Faith conference, a concept devised by author Stephen Arterburn in 1995, after attending a church conference in Atlanta. As of 2013, the annual Women of Faith conference was attended by more than 400,000 women. In 2005, Thomas Nelson launched the Revolve teen conferences, built on the Women of Faith model.
Michael S. Hyatt, a 25-year veteran of the publishing industry, became president and CEO of the company on August 18, 2005, succeeding Sam Moore who served as the company's CEO for nearly 47 years.
In 2006 the private equity firm InterMedia Partners and other investors agreed to buy Thomas Nelson for $473 million. The transaction closed on June 12, 2006. The company operated as a private company. Also in 2006, Nelson acquired Integrity Publishers from Integrity Media. In 2010, a group led by Kohlberg & Company bought a majority share of the company. In 2011, News Corporation subsidiary HarperCollins announced it had acquired Thomas Nelson. The acquisition closed in July 2012.
Thomson Education was spun off as Cengage Learning in the United States and Canada in 2007. The Nelson name lives on through the Canadian company Nelson Education Ltd., an educational publisher. In 2015, Nelson Education was handed over to debtholders, which included Ares Management, Citigroup, Mudrick Capital Management and Sound Point Capital Management. In 2017 McGraw-Hill Education sold their K-12 education holds of McGraw-Hill Ryerson (formerly Ryerson Press) to Nelson.