Revenue at Penguin Random House rose 1.9% in 2018 over 2017 and earnings increased 1.3%, PRH parent company Bertelsmann reported this morning. Total revenue was €3.42 billion ($3.87 billion at current exchange rates) up from €3.36 billion in 2017, while EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) and rose to €528 million from €521 million.
Bertelsmann said growth was due to a “strong bestseller performance, acquisitions, and growth in digital audio downloads” which offset the impact of negative exchange rates. Bertelsmann in particular pointed to the growth of digital audio, which “grew substantially in all the core markets,” and the sales performance of Michelle Obama’s Becoming (which sold 7 million copies around the world last year following its publication in November) as the biggest growth drivers in the year. In the U.S., the Dr. Seuss franchise also helped drive sales, with PRH selling more than 11 million copies of the children’s book classics.
In his letter to employees, global PRH CEO Markus Dohle, who is generally optimistic about publishing’s future, was more bullish than usually on prospects for PRH in 2019. He said based on sales in the first two months of 2019 “we are already on a growth trajectory.” His goal in the coming years, Dohle wrote, is “to grow above the market averages—organically and through acquisitions—particularly in categories that are expanding, such as audio and children’s books—and of course benefit from great frontlist publishing and the growth of our rich backlist—in both fiction and non-fiction.”
One way to achieve that target, Dohle said, PRH companies in places like the U.S. where the audio market is thriving, will use their expertise to develop audio in emerging audio markets, such as Brazil, India, and Australia. Looking at the prospects for children’s books, Dohle said the “children´s books categories—especially preschool—remain rapidly growing segments in most of our markets. This trend is our opportunity to turn younger generations into lifelong readers.”
The biggest impact of the digital transformation on publishing is where books are bought, not what the format the readers buy books, Dohle said. The growing importance on online and e-commerce means PRH must devote more resources to help consumers find the books they want. “Our mandate is to ensure the discoverability and visibility of our books on every platform, and to connect those books with readers everywhere,” Dohle wrote.
The growth of online sales doesn’t mean PRH is ignoring physical retail, Dohle stressed. He noted that PRH books are in more than 160,000 retailers globally “and we are expanding this number as we speak. That physical presence will continue to be important for us to further grow our business over the coming years."