Revenue for the second quarter ended June 30, 2020, fell 8% at Simon & Schuster from the comparable period in 2019, dropping to $200 million. That said, lower production and distribution costs were enough to give the company a 9% increase in earnings, which rose to $38 million, from $35 million a year ago.
The financial report was the first issued since Jonathan Karp took over as CEO of the publisher after the death of Carolyn Reidy in May. Among the titles that drove gains at S&S were John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, which was released June 23 and sold a total of 780,000 copies across all formats in its first week on sale, S&S reported. (Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough was published July 14 and sold over 1.3 million copies in its first week; that revenue will contribute to S&S’s third quarter results).
Karp credited the publisher’s operations teams “for keeping the books flowing” during the quarter. Noting that S&S delayed publication of 150 titles in the period, Karp said “we picked our shots” in promoting titles that it saw as having breakout potential. In addition to The Room, Karp pointed to the success of Chris Wallace’s Countdown 1945, which hit numerous bestseller lists and which Karp expects to sell throughout the fall. “We think Wallace will become a franchise author,” he said. Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer was a big fiction hit, Karp noted.
While print sales fell in the period, digital sales soared, up 44% over the second quarter of 2019 and led by a 51% jump in e-book sales and a 34% increase in sales of digital audiobooks, Karp said. While not predicting that the renewed interest in e-book sales will be permanent, Karp told PW that he sees “no reason to believe the new consumer behavior will change any time soon.” And while that will likely keep online sales strong, Karp said sales through bricks-and-mortar stores remain vital.
Karp added that, during the quarter, S&S did well in big box retailers as well as at mass merchandisers, with those outlets not only selling lots of S&S’s nonfiction books but some fiction as well. S&S is also keeping up its support for independent bookstores, and will continue to organize numerous online author events, Karp said.
The publisher's schedule for the remainder of 2020 “is the strongest list we've had in years,” Karp said. He isn’t intimidated by the rush of titles planned to be released in the fall and over the holidays. “We are full on and can’t wait to publish these books,” he said. Among the authors who Karp believes will be bestsellers this year are Jerry Seinfeld, whose Is This Anything? is the comedian’s first book in more than 25 years. Social media star Jay Shetty’s Think Like a Monk is set for a September release, and the poetry collection Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by pop star Lana Del Rey will also be released next month; the audio edition has already been published, and has been atop several audiobook bestseller lists, Karp said. Once I was You, a memoir by Latina journalist Maria Hinojosa, is another title that has Karp excited.
S&S will keep its nonfiction bestsellers coming in the fall led by a new book from Bob Woodward. Scheduled for a mid-September release, the untitled book will pick up where Fear, Woodward’s account of the first years of the Trump administration, left off. Asked if he was worried about facing a court battle over the publication of the upcoming Woodward book as he did with the Bolton and Mary Trump books, Karp said, “in Bob we trust.”
Overall, Karp said he is generally optimistic about the rest of the year. “I don’t think it will be hard to publicize books,” he said. “People want to read. There isn’t much else to do.”