A strong rebound in June helped to limit the revenue decline at Lagardère Publishing to a drop of 7% in the first half of 2020 compared to the first six months of 2019. (Excluding the purchase of Blackrock Games and Short Books and a gain from exchange rates of €8 million, sales were down 8.3%.) Sales declined to €971 million in the period, and recurring EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) fell 25%, to €27 million.
Lagardère said that after falling 38.6% in April and 21.8% in May, revenue across the publishing group jumped 20.6% in June. Sales in the first quarter were down 3.3% on a like-for-like basis compared to the first quarter of 2019. The company’s U.S. subsidiary, Hachette Book Group, had the best performance in the first half of the year, with sales down only 1%.
HBG CEO Michael Pietsch attributed the solid results during the pandemic to a range of factors, including strong performances from the Orbit division—led by sales of the Witcher novels—and from Little, Brown, thanks to continuing good sales for Malcolm Gladwell’s 2019 bestseller Talking to Strangers.
In addition, Pietsch said the first half of the year benefited from higher sales of new and backlist books by Black writers, including So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi, Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, Little Leaders by Vashti Harrison, and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Tatum. Good sales from bestselling authors David Baldacci, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Elin Hilderbrand, Scott Turow, and Harlan Coben also contributed to the first half results.
Pietsch noted that unit sales grew over the first six months of 2019, “led by an increase in sales of lower-price formats such as mass-market paperbacks, e-books, and downloadable audio, largely offsetting decreases in adult hardcovers and trade paperbacks.” The growth in sales of e-books and digital audio in the first half of 2020 was reflected in the report that e-books accounted for 10.6% of total Lagardère Publishing revenue in the first half of 2020, up from 8.2% in first half, while digital audiobooks represented 5.3% of revenue compared to 3.4% a year ago.
In Lagardère Publishing’s other groups, strict lockdown measures during a number of months led to a 14.7% decline in sales in France, a 5.2% drop in Spain/Latin America, and a 2.9% decline in the U.K. Lagardère said financial results in the second half of 2020 will not only be affected by the uncertainty caused by the pandemic but by unfavorable comparisons to 2019, due to the absence of Asteríx collection releases and just one level of high school curriculum reform in France in 2020, compared to two in 2019.