Profits rose at Hachette Book Group last year over 2018 despite a 1% decline in revenue, HBG’s parent company Lagardère reported. The earnings increase was attributed to improved operating efficiencies in the year, as well as to higher sales of digital audiobooks.

HBG CEO Michael Pietsch said the small decline in sales was largely due to difficult comparisons to 2018, when The President Is Missing by President Bill Clinton and James Patterson and Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks were huge hits. Overall, revenue in 2019 benefited from a 28% increase in sales of digital audiobooks and solid performances in the adult and children’s divisions. Pietsch said the launch of the Voracious and Hachette Go! imprints also buoyed sales.

Among HBG’s top sellers in the year were what Pietsch termed “news-driving nonfiction bestsellers,” including Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers, A Warning by Anonymous, and Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill. Fiction top sellers included James Patterson’s 18th Abduction and Criss Cross, three novels from David Baldacci, and the late-year success of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher. Backlist sales were also strong, he said.

For all of Lagardère's publishing operations, revenue rose 5.9% over 2018, to €2.38 billion, and recurring EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) jumped 10% to €220 million. The revenue gain was led by a 10.3% increase in Spain/Latin America and a 6.3% rise in France. The increases in revenue in those countries were spurred by a sharp rise in education, Lagardere said, plus a solid increase in illustrated books.

In terms of format, e-books accounted for 7.7% of total Lagardère Publishing revenue in 2019, down from 7.9% in 2018. Digital audiobooks represented 3.4% of revenue, up from 2.7% in 2018, the company said.

With strong sales in other parts of the world, the U.S. and Canada accounted for 28% of Lagardère Publishing’s revenue (about $734 million at current exchange rates), down from 29% in 2018. Pietsch noted that HBG had completed two major initiatives in early 2020—the purchase of about 1,200 children’s books from Disney and the signing of National Geographic as a distribution client. Another major distribution client, Lonely Planet, was signed in 2019 and HBG began distributing their books March 1.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify the Lonely Planet distribution deal.