The Globe and Mail: Top Hat buys Nelson Education’s university textbook division

AC grad Top Hat just bought Canada's largest education publisher's university textbook business and plans to convert most sales of the 400 titles it is acquiring to digital formats available on its mobile platform.

May 26, 2020

Canada’s largest education publisher, Nelson Education Ltd., has sold its university textbook business to Toronto technology company Tophatmonocle Corp. in a deal that heralds a hastening of the shift to online education here.

The deal, believed to be worth under US$30-million, will leave Nelson to largely focus on moving its kindergarten-to-Grade 12 customers onto its online learning platform. Meanwhile, Top Hat vaults into the ranks of top North American college textbook publishers, with a plan to quickly convert most sales of the 400 of Nelson’s titles it is acquiring to digital formats available on its mobile platform.

“You can think of this almost as a changing of the guard within higher education,” said Mike Silagadze, chief executive of Tophatmonocle (known as Top Hat). “In one swoop, the largest player has effectively become a technology company.”

He said he doubts there will be much of a print business left by 2023 at the end of a contract that sees Nelson continue to manage physical book printing and distribution for Top Hat. By then, he said, “physical books will be weird and students will wonder what you’re doing if you’re assigning a physical book and charging $200 for it.”

Mr. Silagadze co-founded Top Hat in 2009 with a plan to build the “iTunes for higher education content,” said Shawn Abbott, a partner with Inovia Capital, one of the company’s backers. The founder believed textbook publishing was ripe for the same kind of disruption as the music industry experienced when online services such as Napster enabled widespread pirating, meeting fierce resistance from established players who were slow to embrace digital distribution.

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