Lower e-book sales, combined with lower revenue from titles in the Divergent series, led to a 5% drop in sales at HarperCollins in the quarter ended December 31, 2015, compared to the same quarter last year. Revenue at the publisher was $446 million, HC parent company News Corp. said. Excluding the negative impact of foreign currency, sales at HC were down 3%.
EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) fell 26% in the quarter, to $57 million. News Corp. attributed the earnings decline to the aforementioned drop in e-book and Divergent sales. On the bright side, sales of general books were strong, led by Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Women Cooks: Dinnertime.
News Corp. said that digital sales represented 16% of HC’s consumer revenues in the quarter (about $80 million). In last year’s second quarter, sales of e-books alone represented 17% of consumer sales (totaling approximately $71 million).
HC CEO Brian Murray said that despite the declines, the business is performing well. To support this claim, he pointed to the company's profit margin which remained in double-digits in the quarter (12.8%). He did acknowledge that HC is facing difficult comparisons with last year, when Divergent titles and American Sniper sold "outrageously well."
While sales of e-books were down, Murray noted that print sales in the quarter rose by double digits. He said the discrepancy between e-book and print book sales over the holidays seems to be another indication of an ongoing transition among consumers between print and digital. As Murray explained, over the last quarter "consumers embraced print." He expects the market to settle into a more stable breakdown between print and digital, but said he doesn't know when that will occur.
Within the digital market, digital audio did very well in the quarter. "Every week we get a surprise about the demand for digital audio," Murray said.
For the first half of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, HC’s revenue was down 2%, to $855 million, and earnings were off 25%, to $99 million. Murray is hopeful that a number of new titles will hit big in the second half of the fiscal year. The Glass Sword is out next week and Murray said he thinks it could be "the next big YA property." He also noted that the just-signed book by Fox News Channel's Megyn Kelly should be one of the major books of the fall.
Still, Murray admitted, HC doesn't currently have anything that looks as though it can rival the popularity of last year's Divergent series and American Sniper. "But," he said, "I have lots of people out looking for the next big thing."
NOTE: This story has been updated from its original posting to reflect the comments of HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray.