Strong financial performance at the UK’s Bloomsbury Publishing shows both the contribution of ebooks to overall profits and sales at one typical modern publishing house, and the way in which the industry as a whole has evolved and adjusted over the past five years.
Tipped by the UK’s Daily Telegraph to rise in value due to its strong stock levels and 33 percent profit rise just announced in half-year results, as well as a “77 percent increase in Adult division adjusted operating profit” Furthermore, “digital sales are now 12 percent of Group sales,” and “in the UK e-book sales were up 58 percent year on year,” although “in the US, following bestsellers last year, e-book sales were down 20 percent.” And for some of the key bestselling titles in Bloomsbury’s Adult program, such as MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood and The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, “the proportion of e-book sales compared to print sales for these titles has been as high as 50 percent in some markets.”
If this is a typical pattern at a modern publishing house, then, we see ebooks growing especially important in the key bestseller categories, where they’re likely to dominate and dictate the future direction of the company’s overall strategy. But the Daily Telegraph’s analysis also indicates some of the basis for that development in the post-2008 world. According to its thesis, “six years ago, Bloomsbury was highly exposed to the trade publishing market,” which needed a string of bestsellers to feed it, but saw a collapse in revenue and in share price when the 2008 crisis knocked a hole in bestseller sales, “resulting in a sharp reversal in Bloomsbury’s profitability. The shares have spent the past six years going sideways, but Bloomsbury itself has been moving forwards.”
If this pattern typifies the behavior of other publishing houses during the crisis, Amazon has essentially been growing against a background of slump among traditional houses. No wonder Amazon’s ramp-up has been so fast, and that their tone is sometimes so defensive.