Cornelsen Verlagsholding GmbH & Co.

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Cornelsen Verlagsholding GmbH & Co.

Mecklenburgische Strasse 53
Berlin, D-14197
Telephone: (49 30) 89785-0
Fax: (49 30) 89785-499
Web site:

Private Company
1946 as Franz Cornelsen Verlag
Employees: 2,080
Sales: EUR 354 million ($446 million) (2006)
NAIC: 511130 Book Publishers; 323117 Books Printing; 511199 All Other Publishers; 611310 Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools; 611699 All Other Miscellaneous Schools and Instruction

With about 23,000 titles in print, Cornelsen Verlag GmbH & Co. OHG is one of Germany's top three publishing houses for textbooks and other educational media, including course materials, reference books, dictionaries, technical and business books, CD-ROMs, audio, educational software, and electronic learning solutions. Headquartered in Berlin, the company runs its own printing operation CS-Druck Cornelsen Stürtz and distribution service Pädexpress. Cornelsen controls other publishers of educational titles, including Patmos in Düsseldorf and Oldenbourg in Munich, and holds interests in similar publishers in Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and Poland.

Textbooks account for roughly half of Cornelsen's total sales. Cornelsen CVK Verlagskontor, an independent subsidiary based in Bielefeld, handles book distribution for about 50 publishers. Cornelsen also offers educational services via two main subsidiaries: Studienkreis, a nationwide private educational organization with over 1,000 outlets offering tutoring for middle school and high school students; and AKAD, Germany's largest private distance learning university offering college degrees from information technology to business administration. The Cornelsen group of companies is owned by Franz Cornelsen Stiftung, a family foundation which is controlled by Ruth Cornelsen, wife of company founder Franz Cornelsen.


Electrical engineer Franz Cornelsen gave up a wellpaying job at German electrical giant Siemens to found his own publishing company in Berlin after World War II. Living in the midst of the ruins of the once-vibrant German capital, it was difficult enough to imagine getting anything off the ground. However, Cornelsen, a widely traveled professional with a liberal education, a cosmopolitan mind-set, and a passion for English and French literature, saw a business opportunity in providing intellectually starved Germans, who were isolated from the rest of the world during the Nazi rule, with great works by English-speaking authors and with the necessary literature to help them learn the language.

Although Cornelsen had no experience whatsoever in managing a publishing company, he had an idea what it took to create a professional book. The son of a Prussian civil servant who had studied electrical engineering and economics in Hannover, put together an English-German dictionary for communications engineering while working for Siemens between 1936 and 1944. In 1938, 30-year-old Cornelsen married author and illustrator Hildegard Friedrichs, who worked for Ullstein, one of Berlin's large publishers of popular magazines and books. The Cornelsens moved into a loft apartment in the so-called Künstlerkolonie or artist's colony, a neighborhood of three blocks in Berlin-Wilmersdorf offering affordable housing for artists and journalists, where they became friends with authors and theater people who later inspired the publisher's literary program.

Two months after the end of the war, in June 1945, Franz Cornelsen acquired a 50 percent stake in Minerva Verlag, a small publisher in the British-occupied sector. In order to raise the necessary capital, he sold his Leica camera and his Bechstein grand piano for roughly 40,000 reichsmarks. Two months later Minerva was granted a license for publishing a monthly magazine for students at Berlin's public schools that replaced outdated textbooks. In October 1945 Minerva published a Russian textbook illustrated by Hildegard Cornelsen. The book was so well received by the Russian official responsible for education in the Soviet zone that he declared it mandatory teaching material. However, when the British authorities refused to grant Minerva a license to publish a daily newspaper in Berlin's British sector, Cornelsen sold his stake and founded his own publishing house, Franz Cornelsen Verlag, in April 1946.

Rental office space in Berlin was rare in spring 1946 (Germany's capital still lay in ruins) so the publishing start-up was headquartered in the Cornelsens' living room. Paper and other raw materials were hard to get as well, so Franz Cornelsen invited the paper expert and book producer Arno Levy to become his business partner. In addition, two assistants were hired who in essence moved in with the Cornelsens. The publisher's first book, published in July 1946, was The Devoted Friend and Other Tales, a collection of stories by Oscar Wilde, which sold out very quickly. Another early bestseller was Buch der Lyrik, a collection of classical and modern German poems.

Franz Cornelsen also published several social science textbooks, for example, Ends and Means by Aldous Huxley and Freedom and Organization by Bertrand Russell, which were banned from the shelves of German bookstores during the Nazi era. In summer 1946 Cornelsen set up a subsidiary in the Western German city Bielefeld, which in the postwar years evolved as a major center for the West German book trade. When the rapidly growing demand for Cornelsen's books could not be handled by four employees out of his apartment, the publisher contracted the job out to the newly founded book wholesaler Müller & Müller in late 1946.


After two years of intense work, Hildegard Cornelsen-Friedrichs and the young English language teacher Kurt Spangenberg finished Cornelsen's first product to be developed in-house, the first volume of a lavishly illustrated English textbook for public schools in postwar Germany. Published in June 1948, the first volume of Peter Pim and Billy Ball became an instant bestseller. Within only a few months, Cornelsen sold over 100,000 copies. The three-volume work filled a market niche and was well received because of Spangenberg's strong pedagogic concept, the black-and-blue layout, and its combination of text and images drawn by Hildegard Cornelsen. The three-volume work went through a number of revisions during the following decades and sold a total of 35 million copies until 1981, the year of Hildegard Cornelsen's death.


Our products stand for the highest possible quality, but our standards go even further. We want to contribute to creating the future of education and to that end we put to work our competencies in research, consulting and development. We have utilized the merger of the publishers Cornelsen and Volk und Wissen to re-structure ourselves to be able to create innovative educational solutions in the shortest possible time with the help of competent development teams.

When the Soviets blockaded all transports to and from West Berlin after the introduction of a new currency in the city's Western sectors in June 1948, Cornelsen was suddenly cut off from its major markets. During the yearlong siege by the Soviets, paper and other supplies for the book production were not available in the necessary quantities while printed books sometimes sat for months at Gatow airport until they could be flown out to West Germany by the British. Consequently, it was impossible for Cornelsen to guarantee the prompt delivery of textbooks for the 1948 school year, or any other books at Christmas time. After the siege had ended in May 1949, the market was flooded with high-quality books printed on glossy paper from West Germany, making Cornelsen's inventory of lower-quality paper and unsold copies of grayish-looking books worthless. The losses in sales induced by these developments threw Cornelsen into serious financial crisis. In December 1949 the Cornelsens moved their household and their enterprise to new quarters in Wilmersdorf and decided to limit their publishing activities to textbooks and related educational materials. It was another newly developed product that turned the tide for the publisher. Beginning in 1950, the so-called Cornelsen-Bogen were launched, a monthly supplement to the popular Westerman's teacher's journals. Each Bogen consisted of four to eight pages for students and two to four pages for teachers on complex subjects in politics, the economy or science, and included explanatory texts and photographs as well as easy-to-understand illustrations and image-based diagrams and statistics. Between 1950 and 1960, millions of copies of the Cornelsen-Bogen were sold in West Germany.

In 1953 Franz Cornelsen went on a three-month trip to the United States where he visited all major American textbook publishers on the East and West Coasts. When he returned from his trip, Cornelsen learned that Bielefeld-based publisher Velhagen & Klasing was on the verge of bankruptcy. With a tradition going back to 1835, Velhagen & Klasing had built a reputation for fine atlases and other geographic publications. Although several publishers were interested in taking over Velhagen & Klasing, none of them was willing to take over the company's debt of DEM 3 million, a very large sum at the time.

Cornelsen, who as a young man was an enthusiastic reader of Velhagen & Klasing's monthly literary magazine featuring prepublication selections from works by important German authors such as Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, or Alfred Döblin, was offered help in transferring the struggling publisher from Bielefeld to Berlin by a high-ranking official for Berlin's economic administration, on the condition that Cornelsen took the financial risk, which amounted to two times the two companies' combined annual sales. Encouraged by his wife, Cornelsen agreed, and almost immediately received credit worth DEM 1 million.

After Velhagen & Klasing's production and headquarters were moved to Berlin, Cornelsen's staff worked feverishly to get new editions of all of the publisher's textbooks out in time for the 1954 school year which was starting in spring. In the late summer of 1954 Cornelsen followed up with new editions of Putzgers Historischer Schulatlas, a very popular historic atlas for middle and high school students, and the English textbook Britain and America. One of the major advantages of the takeover was that Cornelsen was able to utilize Velhagen & Klasing's fulfillment center in Bielefeld, where from 1956 onward all of Cornelsen's titles were distributed. With the acquisition of Hannover-based publisher Carl Meyer in 1954, Cornelsen further expanded the company's product range to include middle and high school textbooks on physics and chemistry, readers for high school students in English, French and German, music and religious textbooks, and a number of business titles. Combined sales of Velhagen & Klasing and Carl Meyer grew by 30 percent to DEM 1.3 million in 1954. However, the financially risky takeover of Velhagen & Klasing in addition to the debt caused by the siege of Berlin resulted in years of financial struggle for Cornelsen, which, however, was finally overcome after years of determined effort.


Engineer Franz Cornelsen founds a publishing company in Berlin.
The company's first illustrated English textbook, Peter Pim and Billy Ball, becomes an instant bestseller.
Bielefeld-based publisher Velhagen & Klasing and Hannover-based Carl Meyer are acquired.
Cornelsen and Velhagen & Klasing are merged and the family foundation Franz Cornelsen Stiftung is established.
Cornelsen enters a joint venture with Oxford University Press.
The publisher's own printing company starts operations.
Cornelsen establishes a large distribution center in Bielefeld.
Cornelsen Verlagsholding becomes the company's organizational umbrella.
The company is renamed Cornelsen Verlag and all subsidiaries carry the prefix Cornelsen.
E-Learning subsidiary is founded.
Former East German textbook publisher Volk und Wissen is merged with Cornelsen.


In the mid-1950s, sales for Peter Pim and Billy Ball reached an all-time low. Once again, Hildegard Cornelsen spent two years of hard work revising the first volume. It came out in 1956 and was followed up by revisions of the other two volumes in later years. Following the concept of making it easy for students to learn and for teachers to teach, they were supplemented with audio recordings, posters, and teacher's manuals. When in 1964 the culture ministers of the West German federal states, who were also responsible for education, made it mandatory for public school students to learn a foreign language, Cornelsen's textbook sales skyrocketed, reaching DEM 7 million by 1968.

To strengthen the publisher's position in the market for English language textbooks even further, Cornelsen made a distribution deal with Oxford University Press for their two major titles, Course of Spoken English and Modern Course in Business English, in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, between 1964 and 1969. In 1971 the two companies established a joint venture, Cornelsen & Oxford University Press (COUP), which in 1973 published the first volume of the best-selling textbook English G for middle and high schools. Englisch für Erwachsene, a textbook published in 1976 and tailored to adults studying English at community colleges in Germany, also became a bestseller. Thereafter, COUP developed additional titles for vocational schools, business schools, and for the needs of certain professions, and revised existing Oxford University Press publications, such as the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English.

In addition to its English-language titles, Cornelsen expanded into new subject areas. In the second half of the 1950s the company began to build an editorial team for natural science titles. Using a new concept of teaching based on problem solving, experimentation and discussion rather than the mere presentation of facts to be memorized, the first result of this development work was Natur und Technik, a physics workbook for middle school students. First published in 1963, the multivolume book became a longtime seller. Humanbiologie, a human biology textbook, was another new product based on the concept of integrated learning and supplemented by additional classroom materials. It was first published in 1974, and it too quickly caught on in the market and became a standard text. Many of Cornelsen's publications from that time period were inspired by the methodology and design principles of educational literature from the United States, which Franz Cornelsen brought back from his many visits there.

Another idea that impressed Franz Cornelsen was the great variety of audiovisual media and other learning aids used in U.S. classrooms. Inspired by the "Experiences in Science" programs in American elementary schools, Cornelsen developed the so-called Red Suitcase or CVK Box series. Intended to foster experiential learning, they contained little gadgets and supplies used by grade school students to carry out classroom experiments on topics such as water and wastewater, weather, heat, electricity, and magnetism. The experiment box sets generated significant sales in Germany during the 1970s and were even exported to many countries. However, the shrinking budgets of German educational institutions in the 1970s and 1980s did not allow them to purchase audiovisual media and other learning aids in larger quantities. In 1969 Cornelsen acquired the Berlin-based educational media firm Gambke, which was later renamed Cornelsen Experimenta.


The sustained market success of the new products developed in the 1960s and 1970s enabled Cornelsen to build a financial reserve and to make some major investments to expand the company's production and distribution infrastructure. At the same time, the publisher underwent major organizational changes. Because the production of geographical titles, and atlases in particular, was becoming more and more expensive, Velhagen & Klasing entered into a joint venture with Hannover-based Hermann Schroedel Verlag in 1963. The two jointly founded companies, the Berlin-based Geographische Verlagsgesellschaft Velhagen & Klasing und Hermann Schroedel GmbH & Co KG and the Bielefeld-based Velhagen & Klasing und Schroedel Geographisch-Kartographische Anstalt GmbH continued to publish the Putzger, went into its 82nd edition in 1963, as well as geographical textbooks and a series of wall maps.

In 1966 Cornelsen established an independent distribution subsidiary, Cornelsen-Velhagen & Klasing Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co (CVK), in Bielefeld. The new subsidiary handled marketing and distribution for all of the Cornelsen group's titles. In 1968 Cornelsen and Velhagen & Klasing were merged to form Cornelsen-Velhagen & Klasing. In the same year, the family foundation Franz Cornelsen Stiftung was founded, which in 1969 became the sole owner of the Cornelsen publishing group. Another family foundation, Hildegard Cornelsen Stiftung Bielefeld, became the sole owner of the company's subsidiary in Bielefeld. The new legal construction was designed to secure the existence of the enterprise after the company founder's death, regardless of family interests. A top management team was established that included three of Cornelsen's longtime managers in addition to Franz Cornelsen.

When in the mid-1970s the publisher's two major printers in Berlin were having financial difficulties, Cornelsen decided to set up a printing plant in Berlin for DEM 7 million to establish their independence from other suppliers. As a result of skyrocketing sales in the 1970s, the number of books to be distributed again exceeded the capacity of Cornelsen's distribution center in Bielefeld. After a series of moves to larger sites, a new distribution center was built on a large piece of land, complemented by a large warehouse area, an office complex and an information center for teachers and parents. The new facility was so large that Cornelsen started offering fulfillment services to other publishers. By the mid-1990s the company handled distribution for more than 30 publishers.


The death of Hildegard Cornelsen in 1981 came at a difficult time for the company. Two factors had contributed to increasingly worsening market conditions. First, due to the advent of contraceptives the number of children born in Germany shrank by roughly 40 percent between 1965 and 1975. Consequently, the number of textbooks needed in Germany's schools shrank dramatically in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Second, the fact that the German states were responsible for education resulted in different requirements for the content of textbooks in each state. This in turn limited the size of the print runs for any title and, therefore, made them more expensive to produce. In addition, many of Cornelsen's key employees who had built the company were about to retire. Thus, in 1982, Franz Cornelsen returned as chief executive officer (CEO) and took on the management of his company once more at age 74. Two years later Cornelsen remarried. His second wife, Ruth, became the CEO of the new holding company Cornelsen Verlagsholding GmbH & Co., which was established as the organizational umbrella for all Cornelsen subsidiaries in 1985.

By the early 1980s (when every third text a student in Berlin carried in his or her backpack was a Cornelsen title) it was clear that Cornelsen needed to add even more subject areas to its range of textbooks to secure future growth. The publisher put together new editorial teams for French and Spanish, history and German literature, and this was just the first step. Since all profits generated by the publishing group remained in the company, Cornelsen had accumulated a considerable venture capital fund that was used to finance the publisher's massive growth in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1983 the company acquired Hirschgraben Verlag, a textbook publisher with an established program in the areas of history, politics, religion, and German based in Frankurt am Main, and its subsidiary Scriptor Verlag, a publisher specializing in books for teachers and reference books for youth. Two years later Cornelsen took over W. Girardet Buchverlag, a publisher of books for vocational schools with established titles on mathematics, technology, and business. The year 1985 saw the acquisition of Düsseldorf-based publisher Schwann-Bagel with a program of textbooks on history, politics, German literature, and religion for grade and middle schools. The deal included a minority share in Schwann-Bagel's subsidiary Patmos, a publisher of religious and children's books, which was increased to 75 percent in 1988. Between 1985 and 1989 Cornelsen also expanded and modernized its printing plant and doubled the capacity of the distribution center in Bielefeld.


Franz Cornelsen died on October 31, 1989, nine days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Thus, the event that ended the postwar period in Germany especially in Berlin, also opened a new chapter for the Cornelsen group. Immediately after the borders were open between the two German states, Cornelsen's sales force explored the new market, which had to be supplied with new textbooks after the reunification of Germany in October 1990. Only six months later Cornelsen acquired Volk und Wissen, the publisher of all textbooks for East Germany. After the German Democratic Republic had been founded, Volk und Welt printed 850,000 copies of the Russian textbook, one of Cornelsen's first products, under license. Based in the Eastern part of Berlin, Volk und Welt became an independent subsidiary owned by the Cornelsen family foundation and went through a total remake in the 1990s.

Also in 1991, Cornelsen took over all shares in the two Velhagen & Klasing publishing ventures. The acquisition in 1995 of textbook publisher Ferdinand Kamp Verlag in Bochum, which became a subsidiary of Volk und Welt, marked the end of Cornelsen's national acquisition tour. Although the reunification of Germany was generally met with great enthusiasm by East Germans, their growing insecurity about the future resulted in a drastically decreasing number of births, reducing the number of school-aged children in East Germany by over 30 percent in the late 1990s. By that time, all of Cornelsen's new acquisitions were consolidated and moved to the company's new headquarters in Berlin-Wilmersdorfas was the marketing department formerly located in Bielefeld.

Cornelsen's international expansion began in 1996 with the takeover of the Austrian publishing group Veritas. By 2001 the company had acquired the Swiss Sauerländer Verlage, controlled the Polish publishing group BC Edukacja and owned a 50 percent stake in the Czech Fraus Verlagsgruppe. The acquisition of the Munich-based Oldenbourg group of publishing companies with seven subsidiaries gave Cornelsen access to two additional textbook publishers, two publishers specialized in technology and industry, and two publishers of scientific titles in the subject areas of natural science, social sciences, and economics.

With all major operations under one rooforganizationally and literallyCornelsen entered the dawning age of lifelong learning. As early as in 1988, Cornelsen together with Stuttgart-based Metzler Verlag and another Swiss partner had established CoMet Verlag für Unterrichtssoftware, a publisher of educational software for the classroom. While this and other earlier ventures into electronic media were limited by slim budgets and slow adoption rates, the advent of the Internet in the late 1990s and the growing number of households and classrooms equipped with personal computers gave the sluggish market a lasting impulse.

Within one decade, however, public expenditures in Germany for textbooks and other classroom materials were cut by one-third. After the turn of the millennium Cornelsen intensified its product development efforts in the areas of learning software, E-Learning and edutainment. The most promising products included LolliPop English, a multimedia program for young children, the English Coach 3D learning software for school-age children, and Cornelsen Mobile English, a vocabulary training tool for high school students that can be downloaded onto cell phones.

In 1999 Cornelsen entered the sector of further education for working professionals when the company acquired the German branch of AKAD, Germany's largest private distance learning university with four campuses, offering college degrees from information technology to business administration. In 2003 Cornelsen bought a majority stake in Studienkreis, a nationwide private educational organization with over 1,000 outlets offering tutoring for grade school, middle school, and high school students. This step into related growth markets opened another chapter in the history of the Cornelsen publishing group.

Evelyn Hauser


Cornelsen Verlag GmbH & Co. OHG; Cornelsen Verlagskontor GmbH & Co. KG; Cornelsen Verlag Scriptor GmbH & Co.; Patmos Verlag GmbH & Co. KG (75%); CS-Druck CornelsenStürtz GmbH & Co. KG (50%); R. Oldenbourg Verlag GmbH; Oldenbourg Schulbuchverlag GmbH; Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag GmbH; Oldenbourg Industrie Verlag GmbH; Verlag an der Ruhr GmbH; Pädexpress Verlagsauslieferung GmbH & Co. KG; Sauerländer Verlage AG (Switzerland); Veritas Verlagsund Handelsgesellschaft GmbH & Co. OHG (Austria); Fraus Verlagsgruppe (Czech Republic; 50%); BC Edukacja Sp. Z.o.o. Verlag (Poland; 80%); AKAD Akademikergesellschaft für Erwachsenenfortbildung mbH; AKAD Die Privathochschulen GmbH; AKAD Wissenschaftliche Hochschule GmbH; Cornelsen Experimenta GmbH & Co.; Studienkreis GmbH; Studienkreis Partnersysteme GmbH; People online GmbH; Prögel Pädagogik GmbH.


Ernst Klett Verlag GmbH; Erhard Friedrich Verlag GmbH; Bildungshaus Schulbuchverlage Westermann Schroedel Diesterweg Schöningh Winklers GmbH.


Damm, Steffen, Rückblicke sind nötig, um vorausschauen zu können. Der Cornelsen Verlag 19461996. Berlin: Nicolaische Verlag, 1996, 176 p.

Heilwagen, Oliver, "Lernen wie es im Buche steht," Welt am Sonntag, August 11, 2002.

Kloepfer, Inge, "Im Porträt: Ruth Cornelsen," Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, December 4, 2005, p. 48.

"Lest mehr Schulbücher!; Cornelsen kauft die Oldenburg-Verlage," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 15, 2004, p. 39.

Uhlmann, Steffen, "Die Cornelsen-Gruppe bietet bundesweit als einziger Verlag das komplette Lehrbuchprogramm," Süddeutsche Zeitung, July 12, 2004, p. 22.

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