The 16 companies tracked in this year's analysis of publisher's operating performance had mixed results. Nine of the publishers included by PW posted an increase in their operating margins for their most recent fiscal year, while seven reported a decline. In 1997, 11 of the 17 publishers included on PW's list had a profit improvement (News, Aug. 10, 1998). Only one company, Golden Books, had an outright loss in the year; the children's publisher posted an operating loss of $129 million. In an age where margins are more important than ever to corporate executives and Wall Street, nine publishers had double-digit margins.

Harcourt had the best profit improvement in the year; the company reported an operating income of $232.7 million in fiscal 1998 in its publishing and educational operations and a margin of 12.5%, compared to an operating loss of $164.3 million in fiscal 1997 when the company incurred restructuring charges.

HarperCollins, which barely turned a profit in fiscal 1997, had the second best profit improvement with its operating margin up to 5% from 1.6%. The publisher is also on track to improve on fiscal 1998 gains; through the first nine months of fiscal 1999, HC had a 7% operating margin. Full-year results are due out this week.

Restructuring charges at Reader's Digest book and home entertainment group took a toll on the group's bottom line, where margins dropped from 10.9% in fiscal 1997 to 2.3% in fiscal 1998. For the first nine months of fiscal 1999, operating profit in the group was up "significantly" despite a 3% decline in sales.

The margin improvement at Pearson was led by Pearson Education, which benefited from the newly acquired Simon & Schuster education division, posting a 14.1% operating margin. Pearson's Penguin Group, hurt by integration costs associated with merging the U.K. Ladybird division into the children's division, maintained a respectable margin of 9.2% last year. At Torstar, Harlequin had a 16.7% margin, while its supplementary group had an 8.6% margin.

One of the nine companies to have a double-digit margin last year was John Wiley, with its 12.5% margin representing the company's best performance in nearly two decades.