More data has come in to suggest that book publishing was poised for a good year in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
France’s Lagardère, the parent company of Hachette Book Group, reported that sales for its entire publishing group fell 0.8% in the first quarter compared to the first period of 2019, slipping to €457 million. The company noted that sales in its worldwide publishing operation were up 5.3% in the first two months of the year but fell 19% in March, when stay-at-home orders began to go into effect across its markets. For April, Lagardère said it expects global publishing sales to be down 45% from April 2019.
Lagardère said that given the uncertainty “over the duration and scale of the epidemic and the government lockdowns and closures,” it currently cannot “assess the impacts of the crisis accurately and reliably in terms of the decrease in revenue and operating profit.” The company did say it believes that it has sufficient liquidity to meet its needs for all of 2020.
Lagerdère recently completed the restructuring of its business to focus on publishing and travel. The travel division has been particularly hard it by the pandemic, with revenue falling 13.5% in the first quarter, and is expected to drop 90% in April.
Within its publishing group, HBG was off to a particularly strong start, Lagerdère reported, with sales up 6.8% in the quarter. The gain was led by the success of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series in both print and e-book formats and by the “sharp rise” in downloadable audiobook sales, the company said. Downloadable audio accounted for 14.4% of HBG’s revenue in the quarter, up from 10% a year earlier. E-books accounted for 16.8% of total revenue in the first quarter of 2020, down from 17.4% in the first quarter of 2019.
During the quarter, HBG acquired more than 1,000 children’s titles from the Disney Book Group, and CEO Michael Pietsch said HBG “started the year strongly, with revenues and profits solidly up over 2019.” Towards the end of the quarter, Pietsch observed, "we entered a world completely changed by Covid-19. We are grateful for the partnership and close connection with our employees, booksellers, authors, librarians, and everyone in the community of publishing that is helping us to move forward resolutely and hopefully through these extreme circumstances.”