Publishing Industry Market Update; Vol. 2, Issue 4

Sorry, we are a week late here, as we have been exceedingly busy watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

HarperCollins Gets in the Game

HarperCollins and parent company, News Corp, are finally getting back on the court in the acquisitions game -- agreeing to purchase the trade book division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for $349 million in cash. After losing to Penguin Random House in last year’s back and forth action for Big 5 publisher Simon & Schuster, HC will now (pending regulatory approval) be taking hold of the trade publishing division of HMH that, with 2020 revenues of $191.7 million, was essentially the 6th largest US trade book publisher. HMH had been seeking to unload the business as part of its decision to focus on being an educational technology company for the K-12 market.

After closing out their June 30, 2020, fiscal year with sales of $1.67 billion and a blazing-fast start to fiscal ‘22 helped by a “historic quarter” ending December 31, 2020, HC’s revenue for the first half of fiscal 2022 was just over $1 billion. The addition of the HMH trade business will likely vault HC to the elite $2 billion weight class.

And Still Champion…

Bertelsmann finally reported the 2020 annual revenue for Penguin Random House: $4.4 billion in sales! That was up 4.6% over 2019 – and all during a global pandemic. Last year’s MVP was Barack Obama and his late-year release, “A Promised Land.” The former president contributed more than 7.3 million copies sold in all formats. Markedly higher ebook and digital audio sales also helped.

On a Tear

Print book sales continued their hot streak through March. After seeing print book sales up 21.2% over the first two months of 2021 compared to 2020 numbers, unit sales of print books skyrocketed an astounding 36.5% for the week ending March 13, 2021. That jump was helped by two new releases that each surpassed the 50,000 copy threshold: “How To Do The Work” by Dr. Nicole LePera (over 53,000) and Dana Perino’s “Everything Will Be Okay” (over 51,000).

The Losing Team

Despite the record-breaking performances being seen up and down the field, our teammates suiting up for brick-and-mortar bookstores are still up against the ropes. January 2021 saw a 16.6% decline in sales from the same month a year earlier after December 2020 had been off 15% from 2019’s numbers. Retail, in general, seems to have bounced back from the worst of the pandemic, with a 7.9% increase for January 2021 vs. January 2020, so the continued sluggishness for physical bookstores remains a real concern.

But, to provide a little joy in Mudville, Penguin Random House took one for the team when it recently announced that it would give independent bookstores an additional month to pay the publisher’s invoices, providing some much-needed liquidity to the hardest hit in the industry.

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