With sales of The Purpose-Driven Life finally slowing, Lemony Snicket came to the rescue of HarperCollins's North American operation in the second quarter ended December 31. Fueled by the release of the Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events movie, sales of the newest Snicket book, The Grim Grotto, combined with the entire Snicket backlist to sell five million copies in the quarter, said HC president Jane Friedman. Sales in the adult group were also up, led by a number of fiction titles, including Tony Hillerman's The Skeleton Man, which, Friedman said, was the fastest-selling Hillerman to date. Zondervan was able to somewhat offset slowing Purpose sales with an increase in Bible sales. The end result: total sales at HC worldwide rose 10.5%, to $377 million, and operating earnings increased 8.8%, to $62 million.

The stronger than expected second quarter provided a lift to six-month revenues, which were up 7.7%, to $741 million, while earnings increased 5.1%, to $122 million. Friedman said she is "feeling very good about our business," and she expects HC to have a good finish to fiscal 2005. The current quarter got off to a strong start with the release of Amber Frey's Witness, while a number of fiction titles that were selling well in the third quarter, including State of Fear, continued to sell into the new quarter. Friedman said she is "desperate" to break out Bernard Cornwell in the U.S., whose The Last Kingdom is a big hit in the U.K. A surprise bestseller over the holidays, Patriot Reign, about the New England Patriots, should get a boost from the team's reaching the Super Bowl again, Friedman said.

The release of the DVD edition of Series of Unfortunate Events in the spring "should mean we'll dominate the children's bestseller list for the remainder of the fiscal year," Friedman predicted. The final book from the late Shel Silverstein, Runny Babbit, is also due out this spring, with a 500,000-copy first printing, and in the adult group, Friedman has big expectations for Jack Welch's Winning, set for April 6.

Eyeing the Smithsonian?

HC had no comment on reports that it is the leading candidate to take over the Smithsonian Institution Press trade publishing program, although sources said a deal was close to being signed. Since last fall, SIP has been in discussions with various publishers about different deals, following the decision by the Smithsonian to close SIP.