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Publishing Driven by Kids; General Market Softens

Retail sales of licensed publishing—including books, comics, and magazines—reached over $3.7 million in the U.S./Canada for 2016. Meanwhile, the general sector has relatively soft performance that continued into 2017.

Unit sales of print books were up 1.9% in the U.S. in 2017, continuing the modest single-digit growth book sales have seen over the past few years, according to the NPD Group. The holiday season for book sales was late, with sales declines from Nov. 26 to Dec. 9, followed by a 7% surge in the last week before Christmas. Overall U.S. unit book sales were up 2% for the 8-week holiday season, according to NPD.

Kids graphic novels were a bright spot in the book business. Leading the growth was a 20% growth rate in kids graphic novels, driven by sales of Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man & Cat Kid graphic novel series.

After completing its purchase of Rodale, the Hearst Corp. quickly followed up by selling Rodale’s trade book publishing assets to Penguin Random House. Terms of the acquisition, which involves more than 2,000 backlist titles and 100 frontlist books, were not disclosed. Adult non-fiction titles will become part of Crown Publishing Group and the Rodale children’s line will become part of Random House Children’s Books.

Revenue at IDW Publishing fell 12.1% to reach $24.5 million in the fiscal year ended Oct. 31, 2017, compared to $27.9 million in 2016, parentco IDW Media reported. The publishing unit includes IDW’s games business. IDW attributed the decline to “a cyclically slow period in the comic book specialty market,” as well as its transition to Penguin Random House for distribution. In releasing its financials, IDW said that with the distribution move to PRH completed and the scheduled release of titles such as Star Wars Adventures and Star Trek: Discovery, it expects sales in the publishing group to improve in fiscal 2018.

Barnes & Noble reported that comparable sales fell 6.3% in the quarter ended Oct. 28., the seventh straight three-month period to see sales decline. While part of that decline could be attributed to the absence of a blockbuster on the level of a Harry Potter, comparable sales of non-book products were down even more sharply than the company average. The bookseller plans to shrink store footprints to smaller formats and focus more on books.

Scholastic also cited the lack of Harry Potter as one reason for declines in the quarter ended Nov. 30, 2017. Revenue declined 4% from a year ago, to $598.3 million, and operating profit dropped 4%, to $107.2 million. While sales in the children’s publishing and distribution group fell 5%, the decline was less than expected due to strong sales of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The Illustrated Edition, Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series, and tie-in titles to the indie Five Nights at Freddy’s video game series. Still, trade sales fell 18% in the quarter due to the lack of new blockbuster titles.

Across the pond, The Federation of European Publishers (FEP) released its latest statistical report, which covers 2016 and aggregates data from 29 national associations across Europe. According to the report, total annual sales for members was approximately €22.3 billion ($28.21 billion), the same level it was at in 2015. Sales of ebooks now represent 6% of overall sales, though growth in ebook sales had stagnated for the second year in a row.

When the FEP accounted for total income, which includes rights sales, books to film adaptations, as well as the figure for wholesale sales to booksellers, it estimated the total market value as €36–38 billion ($44.1–46 billion). Local and domestic sales represented 77.9% of all sales for reporting members, with exports representing 22.1%.

The largest markets in terms of revenue and new title production in 2016 were Germany, the U.K., France, Spain, and Italy—all reported an increase in publishers’ turnover in 2016.


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