Higher backlist and frontlist sales, a 16% increase in digital sales, an even bigger increase in print sales, two acquisitions, and favorable currency fluctuations all contributed to a record year at HarperCollins. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2021, revenue rose 19%, to just under $2 billion ($1.985 billion), and earnings jumped 42%, to $303 million. Excluding changes in exchange rates and acquisitions, sales were up 14%.
HC CEO Brian Murray was thrilled with the results, noting that business was up across all areas in which the company operates; in fact, revenue was up by double digits in nearly every country the publisher does business in. “We set records in any metric you use,” Murray told PW.
Murray attributed the gains to higher consumer spending on books worldwide, saying that he has never seen such sustained increase in book buying in his more than 25 years in publishing. “The Covid tailwinds are real,” Murray said. He noted that, while sales this July (after the end of the fiscal year) were about even with July 2020, sales were still “much higher” than in July 2019. He added that research conducted by the company shows no indication that consumers are thinking about curtailing their reading and book buying habits.
Business in the U.S. was especially strong, Murray said, noting that both the children’s and general books groups had solid gains in the year. Revenue at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, he added, had a solid increase, though it did not grow at the same rate as the mainstream divisions, something Murray attributed to churches being closed for long stretches during 2020. Murray was particularly heartened by the 20% increase in print sales in the U.S., seeing it as another sign of people’s interest in reading, and in reading in a format other than on screens. He noted that, after spiking during the first few months of the pandemic, e-book sales have cooled, while digital audio, after an early pandemic lull, are back to double-digit growth rates.
Similar to Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp’s comments yesterday about store sales, Murray said sales at all bricks-and-mortar stores have improved this year, including at Barnes & Noble. He said B&N sales “are tracking well,” and credited CEO James Daunt as the key figure in the chain’s improvement.
Among some of the backlist books and series that drove up revenue last year for HarperCollins were the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn, The Guest List by Lucy Foley, and The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, while new titles such as The Order by Daniel Silva and Code Name Bananas by David Walliams also were big sellers.
Acquisitions added a total of $55 million to HC’s fiscal 2021 revenue. $32 million came from the company's April 2020 purchase of three children’s books groups in Europe that had been owned by Egmont, and $23 million came from the purchase of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt trade division, which was completed in early May.
Murray said the integration of HMH was going as planned, adding that the HC team is still getting to know the HMH business. He expects that, by very early next year, HMH systems will be completely moved over to HC, at which point HC will have a clearer indication of how the two can work together.
Given what he believes is a permanent shift in people’s reading and book-buying patterns, Murray added: “it is a terrific time to be in the publishing business.”