Revenue at Hachette Book Group rose 14.8% in the first half of 2021 over the first six months of 2020. CEO Michael Pietsch acknowledged that some of the gain was due to a weak second quarter last year, when many retailers were closed, but added that hardcover sales were strong in the period (including sales of The President’s Daughter, How the Word is Passed, and Golden Girl) and noted an overall good performance in children’s books and in the company's Christian books business. HBG’s distribution business was “solidly ahead of 2020,” Pietsch said.
HBG was only one part of what was an overall good performance for Lagardère Publishing. Total revenue in the first half of 2021 increased 16.4%, €1.13 billion, and EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) soared to €110 million, from €27 million in the first six months last year. Sales rose 26.9% in France and 17.3% in the U.K., while sales in Spain/Latin America fell 4.5% due to a decline in Mexican sales, which offset “good momentum” in Spain.
Digital sales' share of total revenue fell in the period, something that Lagardère said was caused by a spike last year caused by consumers turning to digital formats during the pandemic. E-book sales fell from roughly €97 million in the first half of 2020 to €90 million in the first six months of 2021, but digital audio sales rose to about €52 million, from €48 million last year.
Lagardère remained uncertain on how the rest of the year will play out, continuing to say that while the pandemic has increased interest in reading and thus book sales, it still expects sales patterns to “normalize” for the remainder of the year as more venues open. The company’s bottom line is benefitting from a “favorable” mix,” presumably higher backlist and good digital sales, which will give the publishing group an operating margin of just over 10% of the year—about the same as 2020.