Simon & Schuster ended what is likely to be its last full year as one of the Big 5 trade publishers by posting a 10.7% increase in revenue over 2019 and a 11% gain in operating income. Revenue hit $901 million last year, while earnings rose to $141 million. S&S’s results were listed as “discontinued operations” by parent company ViacomCBS, as the sale of the company to Penguin Random House undergoes a government review. ViacomCBS only said it expects the deal to be completed sometime this year.
Similar to HarperCollins, which earlier this month reported record results in the fourth quarter, S&S closed out 2020 on a strong note, with sales up 17% over the final quarter of 2019, reaching $252 million. S&S CEO Jonathan Karp pointed to a range of titles that performed well in the last quarter, led by Anxious People by Fredrick Bachman, Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty, and Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities 8.5: Unlocked, the latest in a series to which Disney has acquired the film rights. “We had an abundance of riches,” Karp said.
For the full year, Karp said all formats had gains in 2020 over 2019, and total digital sales accounted for 28.5% of all of S&S’s revenue in the year. The company had solid sales through mass merchandisers, including Walmart and Target, and sales to Amazon were also up. Barnes & Noble “is doing better,” Karp said. Overall, the adult division had a great year, he added, especially in nonfiction, where S&S had one of the year’s biggest bestsellers in Mary J. Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough and good performances by other Trump-related titles, including Rage by Bob Woodward and John Bolton’s In the Room Where it Happened. Sales in the children’s division were flat, Karp said.
International sales were up, led by good results in Canada, the U.K. and Australia. Karp was particularly pleased with the increase in local publishing done in each country, he said, citing Canada in particular for publishing a number of bestsellers written by Canadian authors.
Karp said morale at S&S remains good despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic and the pending sale of the company to PRH. “I think everyone feels connected. We are having lots of meetings, including with authors to talk about their books,” he said. “I think we are firmly ensconced in the new normal.” There is no firm date about when employees might return to their offices.
Underpinning the mood at S&S is what Karp called another great list, and he predicted that 2021 “will be the year of fiction” at the publisher. He is very high on Anthony Doerr’s forthcoming Cloud Cuckoo Land, his first novel since the smash hit All the Light You Cannot See. Other fiction Karp is excited about includes The Paris Library by Janet Skeslian and The Devil’s Hand by Jack Carr, who Karp predicted will be Atria’s next great thriller writer.
S&S also has a solid set of nonfiction titles for the year, with Sanjay Gupta’s Keep Sharp already a “category killer” since its release in early January Karp said. And Karp said S&S has a surefire bestseller in Brad Stone’s Amazon Unbound. The book, set for release in May, is embargoed. “You’ll see why after it comes out,” Karp said.