With all of its international subsidiaries posting gains in the year, the 7% decline in revenue at Simon & Schuster in 2009 was due entirely to its domestic businesses, CEO Carolyn Reidy said in an interview Thursday evening. Sales at the house fell to $793.5 million, and operating income declined 46%, to $42.5 million. The publisher, which tends to do best in the fourth quarter, ended the year on a down note as well, with sales off 10% in the final period.
Reidy said sales were down in all segments—adult, children's, audio—and in all formats with the exception of e-books. The children's segment, particularly in the fourth quarter, did better than adult or audio, Reidy said, and the paperback formats did better than hardcover. "Hardcovers were under pressure all year," Reidy said, including children's picture books. As a result, S&S will continue to publish more trade paperback originals, and the company's different publishers are looking to "trim their lists a little bit in 2010, 2011, to make sure we can give each book the attention it deserves," Reidy said. Publishers and editors will also up their efforts to find books that S&S can publish relatively quickly, Reidy said.
Last year, the company did particularly well with books aimed at a conservative audience, with nonfiction titles through Threshold (Glenn Beck) and even in fiction, where Vince Flynn did lots of conservative talk shows, Reidy said. In 2010, S&S has several Beck books scheduled, including a novel and children's books. Conservative stars Karl Rove and Laura Bush have titles due out later this year as well; S&S will also publish another Bob Woodward title. The house's just-released Willie Mays book is off to a good start, and S&S has high hopes for the trade paperbacks The Little Bee and Jeannette Walls's Half Broke Horses.
Faced with the challenges and opportunities provided by digital publishing as well as the uncertainty of Borders, Reidy said her goal is to make sure S&S is positioned to adjust to the complexities of the market. She acknowledged that will require employees learning new skills and in some cases doing two things at once to publish for print and digital audiences.
She is guardedly optimistic about prospects for 2010. The first two months were slow, but orders for March have been better. "We are seeing signs of a turnaround," Reidy said, "but we've seen that before. Let's hope it sticks this time."