Revenue for the Lagardère Publishing division rose 11.6%, to €509 million, in the first quarter ended March 31, 2021, over the comparable period in 2020, parent company Lagardère reported. Sales increased in France, the U.K., and the U.S. offsetting declines in Spain/Latin America.
At Hachette Book Group, the company’s U.S. subsidiary, sales increased 9.1% in the quarter. HBG CEO Michael Pietsch said the increase was driven by strong hardcover sales of both adult and children/young adult titles. Among the top children's sellers were Meena Harris’s Ambitious Girl and Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped. Titles by James Patterson, Harlan Coben, and Don Lemon were among the bestsellers for the publisher in the adult segment last year. (HBG also had a solid first quarter of 2020. Sales were up 6.8% over 2019 before they tumbled in April and May.)
Pietsch added that HBG's distribution business had double digit gains in the most recent quarter. Lagardère reported that “digital formats continued to perform well, despite a slowdown in audiobooks following the 2020 success of The Witcher in this format.”
Print sales appeared to do well across Lagardère’s publishing divisions. And despite reporting that digital sales were good in the quarter, e-books accounted for 9.0% of total Lagardère Publishing revenue in the first quarter of 2021, down from 9.7% in first quarter 2020. Downloadable audiobooks’ share fell to 4.6% of revenue compared to 5.9% one year earlier.
This year’s first quarter results are being compared to a period in 2020 in which revenue began to slump in mid-March as the impact of the pandemic struck. Sales in March 2020 were down 19% compared to 2019.
Lagardère remains concerned that the reopening of restaurants and entertainment venues may hurt book sales as 2021 moves forward. The company said that the health crisis has boosted book sales, but added that the company believes “sales momentum will return to normal in 2021 as leisure and cultural venues” reopen.
The earnings announcement acknowledged that the company is in discussions to change its ownership structure, but had no update on the negotiations.