Driven by a 16% increase in digital sales, revenue at Simon & Schuster rose 4% in the first quarter ended March 31, 2020, over the comparable period in 2019, parent company ViacomCBS reported. Sales rose to $170 million, from $164 million, in the period, while earnings were flat at $19 million.
Audiobook sales were led by good performances of Garrett Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky and Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years. S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy said audio sales dipped slightly at the end of March as commuters began working from home, but sales quickly began to grow again. The audio unit’s Pimsleur division, which offers courses to teach different foreign languages, has seen a big jump in business, especially for its subscription service, Reidy said. E-book sales were up 13% in the quarter, and sales are now running as much as 50% over the same time last year, Reidy said.
Print sales began to soften at the end of March and took a major hit in April, Reidy said, as most bookstores across the country had closed by that point. Some print sales have shifted to outlets like Walmart, however, and online sales have also risen.
To help readers find books, S&S has put nearly all of its marketing dollars behind its consumer efforts. The company has not increased its own direct-to-consumer sales efforts, preferring to direct readers to stores, Reidy said. Reidy has also been encouraged by the company’s use of virtual tours, which she said are allowing authors to reach more bookstores.
Reidy said she believes business will improve later in the year, but was uncertain as to when that may occur. Noting that book sales have held up reasonably well even as some channels have dried up, she was hopeful that, at some point, the book business will make a strong recovery. Reidy added that what she finds “most heartening” about the state of the business at the moment is that “the demand for books is still there. Consumers are finding books despite different inconveniences.”
For the second quarter, S&S has just released Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner, and will also publish such books as On Ocean Boulevard by Mary Alice Monroe, Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace, The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda, and The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton. Looking further out, S&S has books coming from Alex Trebek, Brad Thor, Catherine Coulter, Sean Hannity, Jerry Seinfeld, Janet Evanovich, Vince Flynn, and Rachel Renee Russell.