Courier Corp. overcame a slow first half of fiscal 2004 to finish the year ended September 24 with a sales gain of 4.5%, to $211.2 million, and a 2% increase in earnings, to $20.5 million. Sales in the book manufacturing segment rose 3.1%, to $177.2 million, and sales in its publishing group increased 12.1%, to $40.8 million.

Improvement in the manufacturing segment was led by a 13% sales gain in the education market, driven by a 30% increase in elhi sales and a 4% increase in college sales. Courier executives attributed the jump in elhi business to the installation of a new four-color press that drew new customers to the company. Courier executives were so impressed by the results of the new press that they bought a second one, which will be online by late 2005. Sales in the religion market rose 3% in the year, helped by a 14% sales gain in the fourth quarter. Despite a 2% sales gain in the fourth quarter, sales to the trade market fell 8% in the year due in part to a large drop in computer game books in the first part of the year.

Publishing group sales benefited from revenue of $3.9 million generated by Research & Education Association, which Courier bought in January. Sales at Dover Publications increased 1%, to $36.9 million. Courier chairman Jim Conway acknowledged that Dover's sales were below expectations and said that while some of the shortfall was the result of a difficult retail market, the company "didn't capitalize" on all its opportunities. Sales to retailers, which account for about 70% of Dover sales, were flat in the year, while direct-to-consumer sales were up 5%. International sales rose 9%.

To help Dover improve its performance in fiscal 2005, new vice-presidents were appointed in marketing and operations and a new national sales manager and education marketing specialist were added. In addition, in September, Paul Negri was promoted from senior v-p, publishing and marketing, to president of Dover, succeeding the retiring Clarence Strowbridge, while Eric Zimmerman, v-p of e-commerce, was appointed to the new post of v-p publishing, with responsibility for both Dover and REA. In his old job, Zimmerman was responsible for online marketing, which Conway said was Dover's fastest-growing sales channel and an area the company has targeted for more growth. As part of that effort, Conway said that Dover is "ramping up" its direct-to-consumer marketing plans for the holiday season. Among new products for 2005 is a Pictura series of high-resolution image books for designers.

Looking at prospects for all of fiscal 2005, Conway forecast a sales increase of 7%— 9%, with earnings per share up 10%—16%. Conway said he believes pricing in the printing segment has begun to stabilize, and he foresees a new wave of demand in the education market beginning in late 2005 that will carry into 2006.