Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Boston-based publisher of textbooks, Philip Roth novels and the Curious George children’s books, has bought John Wiley’s portfolio of cookbooks, dictionaries and study guides.

The acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, highlights a shift in thinking within HMH about its trade and reference division, which its former management tried to sell in 2009 as it struggled with the debt burden of the leveraged buyouts that created the groups.

Linda Zecher’s first acquisition since becoming chief executive in September 2011 will add cookbooks under the Betty Crocker, Better Homes and Gardens and How to Cook Everything brands, as well as authors such as Rose Levy Beranbaum, Marcus Samuelsson and Ellie Krieger.

“This strategic acquisition reflects HMH’s continued commitment to consumer publishing, and represents an exciting growth opportunity within the culinary market,” said Gary Gentel, president of HMH’s trade and reference division.

“Even as digital sales increase, the print cookbook segment shows particular strength, both at HMH and within the market in general,” he added. HMH already publishes cookbooks by Jacques Pépin and Dorie Greenspan, The Gourmet Cookbook and titles under the Hello, Cupcake! franchise.

Bowker, a market research group, found in a poll of 2,000 Americans this year that Betty Crocker was the best known cookbook brand. Cookbooks account for about two per cent of all book sales and still sell well in print formats despite the growth of cookery applications and websites, which account for 20 per cent of sales.

The deal will also add Webster’s New World Dictionary, which HMH described as “a dominant force in the back to school market” to its American Heritage dictionaries.

CliffsNotes, Wiley’s test preparation and literature study guides, will complement HMH’s position in educational publishing, test preparation and assessment services, the group said. CliffsNotes.com has over 2m unique monthly visitors.

HMH competes with Pearson, owner of the Financial Times and Penguin, in educational and consumer publishing. Penguin last month announced plans to merge with Random House, owned by Bertelsmann, raising expectations of further consolidation as the book business industry adapts to the rise of ebooks.

Wiley announced plans to sell most of its consumer publishing assets in March to focus on scientific, professional and educational publishing. It sold its Frommer’s travel guides to Google in August but is keeping the For Dummies brand.

Wiley bought the consumer titles in 2001 for about $185m. It said earlier this year that they had combined revenues of about $85m in 2011, when they made about a $6m contribution to profit, before shared costs.

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