In discussing the first-half performance of Hachette Book Group earlier this year, CEO David Young said 2008 would be remembered as the year of Stephenie Meyer, a prediction that indeed came true. With Meyer's books selling a total of 29.7 million copies last year, HBG's sales jumped 26%, to well over $600 million. “It's been wonderful to be part of a true phenomenon,” Young said, adding that momentum for Meyer's titles continues as her audience expands beyond the teenage girls and young adults who were her first fans. The Twilight Saga Journals, a series featuring quotes from the Twilight books and artwork, is coming in September, and the film of New Moon is due at Thanksgiving. Beyond Meyer, Young said there was underlying strength across all divisions. The Shack, published in cooperation with Windblown Media, is nearing six million copies sold, while James Patterson continues to be HBG's “rock,” contributing hardcover, paperback, audio and children bestsellers, Young said.
HBG's investments in digitizing its titles began to pay off in 2008, with e-book sales jumping to $4.7 million. Young said sales for the format remain strong and could top $10 million in 2009. While that would represent about 2% of revenue, in some imprints, such as Orbit, e-book sales could constitute 5%to 10% of sales, Young said. HBG continues to digitize all frontlist titles that are appropriate for the e-book format and by the end of the year should have all suitable backlist works digitized as well. HBG also generated $1 million in print-on-demand sales last year, largely through Young's call to “eradicate” out-of-stock-indefinitely titles. HBG had about 6,000 OSI titles, and Young formed a team to either declare them out-of-print or to move them to the POD program. “We want to extend the useful life of our books,” Young said.
HBG is experimenting with other ways to improve its efficiency. It's at the forefront of using XML and is part of the pilot with Edelweiss for electronic catalogues. The group also has the full support of Hachette chairman Arnaud Nourry to expand, including by acquisition. “Arnaud has made it very clear we will consider very seriously any opportunity,” Young said, noting that Nourry doesn't want Hachette to remain America's fifth largest trade house for too long.
While HBG is having a strong first quarter, the publisher is not immune to the challenges facing all publishers. For many authors, “numbers are down in all formats,” Young said. “We expect it to be a very, very challenging year,” he added. Still, HBG has a range of titles it hopes will drive sales. Patterson is set to deliver nine books this year, including a December YA title, Witch and Wizard, plus his second nonfiction book, The Murder of King Tut. The autobiography of Sen. Ted Kennedy, due in the fall, could be the nonfiction book of the year, Young speculated. A children's edition of Dewey the Cat and Serena Williams's autobiography are some of the other titles that should do well later this year. And, of course, the Twilight saga should continue to “power on,” Young said.
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