Publishing Industry Market Update; Vol. 2, Issue 9

Big Numbers for the Big 5

With the first 6 months of 2021 in the books, we have seen an industry-wide increase in same-period sales up 18.1% over 2020. Some of that jump can be attributable to the adversely COVID-impacted March and April 2020, but if you’ve been hanging with us for the past year and a half, you know that by May 2020 and on through the rest of that year, we were on a hot streak. So, these are some terrific numbers to report, with Publishers Marketplace conjecturing that we may have just seen the best 6- and 12-month periods ever!

The Big 5:

Penguin Random House:  Up 10.8% worldwide; 22% ($1.3 billion) in the U.S.
Lagardere/Hachette:  Up 16.4% worldwide; 14.8% in the U.S.
HarperCollins:  Up 20%
Simon & Schuster:  Up 9.2% (reporting separately from PRH pending merger approval)
Macmillan/Holtzbrinck:  (privately held, but presumably performed similarly well)

More Mergers

Hachette Book Group knows what to expect, and it’s expecting to be the country’s #3 trade publisher behind PRH and HC once it closes on its just-announced acquisition of Workman. Workman had annual sales of $134 million last year, led by its perennial bestseller brand “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” which will take HBG over $800 million in annual revenue. So, for those of you trying to make your own publishing industry mega-merger flowchart, it’s been S&S to PRH, HMH to HC, and W to HBG (and we’re probably forgetting some).

Wonder who’s next? Scholastic, maybe? It’s been a little bit of a soap opera over there since the longtime CEO died. With a big hit to their book fair division last year due to COVID, that might make them ripe for a merger. Can you say, expelliarmus? Me neither.

Bookstores Rebound

As we reported last month, brick-and-mortar bookstores are seeing a resurgence, shaking off the crippling COVID shutdowns. Leading that charge is the flagship U.S. bookstore chain – the 625-location Barnes & Noble. B&N’s relatively new British CEO James Daunt, who took over just before the pandemic, has completed his plan to refurbish and reconfigure every store in roughly half the time it was scheduled to take – thanks, in part, to the necessary store closures. Those, and other changes, have helped B&N increase sales by 30% over last year and they are even up nearly 6% over 2019. And more positive news from B&N—much of the increased traffic to those physical stores is made up of teen and young adult shoppers, which can only be good news for an industry fighting off Big Tech at every turn.

Told Ya…Maybe

While it may be too soon to call it, our cautionary tone about the prospects for Q3 2021 may have been premature. As detailed in our last issue, the more-than-a-year-long bullish book market came back to earth in July as year-over-year weekly sales reports ended their winning streak. Those numbers continued to slide in August—until the week ending August 21, 2021, when we saw a turn back into positive territory, even if just barely.

Weekly year-over-year print book unit sales:

July 31:  down 1.7%
August 7:  down 8%
August 14:  down 1.3%
August 21:  up 1.6%

And those 2021 numbers are fighting against the 2020 election cycle when sales were stoked by presidential politics and big books coming from both sides of the aisle. So, we may find some positive traction for the balance of 2021 after all. Check back here, and we’ll keep you apprised.


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