Bloomsbury suffers as e-books lose their magic


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The Independent Online

Revenues at the Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury tumbled in the six months to August amid a lack of new e-book reading devices.

Group digital sales fell by £200,000, or more than 3 per cent, to £5.6m in a sign that interest in e-books has peaked – at least temporarily.

The decline contrasts with a 22 per cent rise in digital revenues for the same period in 2013 and a 95 per cent leap in 2012.

The adult division at the publisher, which covers fiction and non-fiction, was likely to have suffered a much steeper drop than 3 per cent in digital because the academic and professional unit jumped by 65 per cent, or £800,000, to £2m.

Unlike last year, the adult division did not disclose its digital revenues, but sales were down 17 per cent at £19.3m across print and e-books.

Richard Charkin, the managing director of adult books at Bloomsbury, conceded that sales of e-books have stopping growing.

“On a like-for-like basis, we’re seeing some decline,” he said, but he maintained that there was a tough comparison with a year ago when Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel And The Mountains Echoed was published. “If you take that out of the equation, I’d say that it’s plateaued.”

Mr Charkin continued: “The US market is certainly reporting a plateau. There hasn’t been a major hardware launch in the period. There is some evidence there’s a little turn back to print, which is quite nice.”

He added that some emerging market countries have been slow to adopt e-readers, but he stressed: “Not for a moment do I think this is the top of the market. Children’s books are a tiny proportion of e-books. Cookery books are only a few per cent. There’s no question it’s going to grow.”

Bloomsbury’s other divisions fared better, with children’s books up 8 per cent, information 20 per cent and academic and professional 1 per cent.

Group revenues still fell 5 per cent to £46.6m and pre-tax profits halved to £500,000. Digital was 12 per cent of turnover.

Nigel Newton, Blooms-bury’s chief executive, is counting on a string of Potter-related launches to boost sales – seven years after author JK Rowling launched her last book in the series.

He expects “a huge surge in public interest”, thanks to a new illustrated edition, a stage adaptation and three Warner Bros films based on Ms Rowling’s story Fantastic Beasts  and Where to Find Them.

Mr Newton also highlighted Harry Potter Book Night on 5 February, aimed at schools and bookshops, with a free party kit including invitations, games and quizzes to download. He hopes it will become an annual event.

He dismissed suggestions that Bloomsbury was turning back to Potter to revive its fortunes and tipped Paul Hollywood’s British Baking by The Great British Bake Off star as a Christmas bestseller.

Fiona Orford-Williams, an analyst at Edison Investment Research, said the adult division “was always going to struggle to meet last year’s numbers”.

But she warned: “It’s still a matter of ‘wait and see’ as we move into the busiest trading weeks of the year.”