Strong sales of adult books and another big gain in its international operations led to a “robust, healthy” second quarter at Simon & Schuster, company CEO Jonathan Karp told PW. Revenue in the international group jumped 50% over the second quarter of 2020, Karp said, as S&S’s overseas publishers ramped up production this year after delaying titles in 2020 due to lockdowns.
Total revenue in the period increased 9.5% over last year's second quarter, to $219 million, and earnings jumped 48%, to $52 million.
Sales in the adult group were led by what Karp called the book of the summer, Laura Dave’s The Last Thing He Told Me, which now has 515,000 hardcover copies in print since its May 4 release. The book has benefitted from tremendous word-of-mouth, Karp said, and was also a Reese Witherspoon book club pick. Karp called it “a complete publishing triumph.” The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris has also sold well since its release on June 1, and Karp predicted that the book will "have legs."
Two backlist titles also saw a boom in sales in the quarter, Karp said. Colleen Hoover’s It Ends with Us has more than 775,000 copies in in print and as sold well in all formats, while Taylor Jenkins Reid has had new success with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which was first published in May 2018 and has about 720,000 copies in print and has seen good digital sales; it has sold over 182,000 print copies this year.
Children’s sales were flat in the quarter, Karp said, but there were some real successes. Chloe Gong’s YA debut, These Violent Delights, is now in its 13th printing, with 275,000 copies in print. A picture book on Dr. Fauci has also been popular.
Despite signs that industry sales growth was beginning to slow in July, Karp said S&S had a “great month. We have two number 1 bestsellers,” referring to not only The Last Thing He Told Me but American Marxism by Mark Levin, which had been #1 in nonfiction since its release in July and has close to 1 million copies in print. Karp has also been heartened by the bounce back in sales through physical bookstores, both in the independent segment and at Barnes & Noble. “It is great to see Barnes & Noble revitalized,” Karp said.
Karp acknowledges that there are “operational challenges” facing the publishing industry in the second half of the year, but he has confidence S&S’s list will break through. The company has a countdown clock on its website marking the days until the September 28 release of Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, which Karp predicted will be the book of the fall. In October, the Hillary Clinton/Louise Penny collaboration, State of Terror, will also be released.
On the nonfiction side, S&S will publish Countdown to Bin Laden, the next in the Countdown series by Chris Wallace—whose Countdown 1945 was a bestseller last year— this fall as wellAnother author with a recent nonfiction bestseller, Sanjay Gupta, will publish his book on the fight against Covid-19, World War C, in October; Karp called Gupta a “franchise author.” In keeping with company policy about not talking about a new Bob Woodward book until its release, Karp would only say that the venerable Washington Post reporter's still-untitled book, written with Robert Costa, “will be newsworthy.”
ViacomCBS remains S&S’s parent company and, during a conference call about its second quarter results, ViacomCBS’s executives said they still expect the sale of S&S to Penguin Random House to be completed before the end of the year.
This story has been updated with S&S's reported sales figures.