The Harry Potter publisher, Bloomsbury, has reported its most profitable first half in more than a decade, after a nation tiring of box sets fuelled a lockdown boom in book sales.
The company furloughed staff as the coronavirus crisis forced the publishing industry to shut down, but has seen a remarkable change in fortune as the pandemic has persisted.
“It is a complete surprise because we had as grim a beginning to the pandemic as everyone else in March when 100% of our customers shut down worldwide,” said Nigel Newton, the chief executive.
“And then we found that early on people showed short attention spans and were watching TV. But then reading reasserted its power and people found they could escape through books, and sales have been booming ever since.”
Profits surged 60% to £4m in the six months to the end of August, the highest first-half earnings since 2008, as revenues grew 10% to £78.3m. The better-than-expected performance sent Bloomsbury shares 15% higher, to 242p, at midday on Tuesday.
A key driver has been the consumer division, which includes the Harry Potter series. There was a more than fourfold increase in profits at the division, to £2.7m, as sales rose by 17%. The publisher said print sales of Harry Potter books grew by 8% from mid-July to the end of September.
Overall online book sales and e-book revenues, from readers using devices such as Kindle, were “significantly higher” but the group would reveal its figures.
Newton said certain books had captured the mood of many during the lockdown, such as Rutger Bregman’s Humankind: A Hopeful History, Polly Samson’s Greek island-set A Theatre for Dreamers and a resurgence in popularity of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, as the Black Lives Matter movement took hold.
Other titles to do well included cookery books by Paul Hollywood and the restaurant Dishoom, as people looked for indoor hobbies as bars, pubs and restaurants were shut. “Books turned out to be essential components of so many people’s periods of being at home and rediscovering the joy of reading,” Newton said.
With schools and universities shut, Bloomsbury’s digital learning resources division reported a 47% year-on-year rise in revenues, with a near three times increase in customer numbers.
Alastair Reid, media analyst at Investec, said: “Despite early investor concerns over the impact of Covid-19 on demand, and Bloomsbury’s ability to fulfil it, the group’s performance continues to confound these fears.
“The performance in fundamental terms reflects the strength in demand for its titles, alongside a surge in demand for digital products.”
Bloomsbury’s bestsellers during the pandemic
White Rage – Carol Anderson
Lose Weight for Good – Tom Kerridge
Dishoom: From Bombay with Love – by Dishoom restaurant