Profits soared 55.1% at Penguin Random House in the first half of 2021 over the comparable period in 2020, parent company Bertelsmann reported, with that increase powered by a 10.9% increase in sales. Total revenue for the period was €1.80 billion, about $2.1 billion, in the first six months of 2021, up from €1.63 billion, while operating EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) jumped to €324 million, from €209 million a year ago.
Bertelsmann attributed the increases to solid sales of both frontlist and backlist books, as well as to “a continuing audio boom in nearly all territories.” In addition to the jump in audiobook sales, Bertelsmann said that PRH, “thanks to its high number of digitally available titles (e-books, audiobooks) and its state-of-the-art distribution logistics for physical content, continued to benefit from the accelerated shift to online retail channels.”
While the regulatory review of PRH’s pending acquisition of Simon & Schuster continues in the U.S., growth in the first half the year was aided by acquisitions made by the company's Spanish-language subsidiary, Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, in the children’s, young adult, and Catalan-language markets during the year's first half. Sales in PRH’s services operation—largely in its distribution business—rose 18.2%, to €52 million.
The top-selling titles in the first half of the year included The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country by Amanda Gorman, which sold 400,000 copies in the U.S. in the first three months of publication, and Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, which sold 750,000 copies in North America in all formats in the first half of 2021. Other bestsellers included The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates, The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, and Über Menschen by Juli Zeh.
Bertelsmann also said that sales in the U.S. increased 8.7% in the period, to €1.08 billion.
In his letter to employees, PRH worldwide CEO Markus Dohle pointed to “a strong book market in some of our large territories” and “the recovery from last year’s revenue losses due to the COVID-19 crisis in other regions” for the strong performance in the first half of the year.
Dohle thanked PRH employees for working together during the pandemic, writing: “the remaining months of 2021 bring new areas to navigate: the development of hybrid work models and the opportunity to meet voracious customers’ demand for books.”
Dohle, who has repeatedly stressed the vitality of the book business, continued that theme in his letter. “We are taking actions to encourage a healthy book ecosystem, including support for booksellers’ financial recovery from the pandemic and using data-informed consumer-marketing research to foster reader engagement,” he wrote. “The more we embrace a growth mindset, marked by experimentation and learning, the more we can and will be a voice of optimism for our company and industry.
Outside of publishing, Bertelsmann reported that revenue in its printing group fell 4.1%, to €624 million. The company cited varied results in its different countries for the decline, noting that in the U.K. sales were soft “primarily due to declining volumes of supplements among major newspaper publishers.” Still, its U.S. printing group, which focuses on book printing, had an improvement in business. Last November, Bertelsmann's Berryville Graphics division acquired Quad’s book printing plants in Fairfield, Pa., and Martinsburg, W. Va.