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eBook Sales Down at S&S, HarperCollins, Hachette

5690820858_cda0fcfa2f_bAll the major US trade publishers have agency deals in place, and that is having the expected impact on their ebook sales.

Over the past week HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette have released financial statements that show exactly what we all expected.

The Bookseller reported today on S&S:

The CBS Corporation released its fourth quarter and full year results yesterday evening (11th February), revealing that its publishing arm Simon & Schuster saw an 8% sales increase from $215 to $233m, primarily down to the growth in print book sales.

The fourth quarter boost meant the company ended its full year with sales of $780m (£536.5m), up 0.25% from $778m (£535m) a year earlier.

However, e-book sales accounted for just 21% of total publishing revenues in the fourth quarter, down from the 24% they accounted for in the same quarter a year earlier.

And PW reported that HC was defending its decline in revenue by pointing to the healthy profit margin (12.8%):

Lower e-book sales, combined with lower revenue from titles in the Divergent series, led to a 5% drop in sales at HarperCollins in the quarter ended December 31, 2015, compared to the same quarter last year. Revenue at the publisher was $446 million, HC parent company News Corp. said. Excluding the negative impact of foreign currency, sales at HC were down 3%.

News Corp. said that digital sales represented 16% of HC’s consumer revenues in the quarter (about $80 million). In last year’s second quarter, sales of e-books alone represented 17% of consumer sales (totaling approximately $71 million).

If you’re wondering about that second paragraph, note that one stat says digital sales while the other says "sales of ebooks alone". HC’s ebook sales were down due to agency.

And finally, Lagardère has published its year-end financial report. The news is not good for its ebook revenues in either the 4th quarter or for the year.

In the United States, the jump in activity (+15.2%) was linked to a favourable publishing calendar during the quarter, specifically See Me by Nicholas Sparks. E-book sales saw a slight decline.

In the United Kingdom, sales trend (-6.7%) was due to the decline in e-books sales, in a market affected by the VAT hike from 3% to 20% on 1 January 2015 and to a slower release schedule than the fourth quarter 2014.

E-books: the weighting of e-books decreased, making up 7.5% of total sales for Lagardère Publishing in the fourth quarter 2015, compared to 10.0% in the fourth quarter 2014. See comments below for the full year.

The United States posted stable operations (-0.3%). The stand-out for the year was a rebalancing of the printed book market, to the detriment of e-books: the increase of printed books sales has almost offset the decline of e-books sales.

The United Kingdom is in a slowdown (-3.3%), due to the decrease of e-books sales in a market affected by the VAT hike. Good performances in Education and Illustrated Books did not offset a slower release schedule than 2014 in non-fiction.

E-Books: in 2015 market trends have been reversed in the US and UK, with a rebound in volumes of printed books to the detriment of e-books, due to new contract terms with Amazon. For the time being, this digital transition remains essentially confined to the English-speaking markets, and only in the General Literature segment (which represents about 40% of total sales of the division).

  • In the US, Lagardère Publishing digital sales now account for 22% of Trade(4) sales compared to 26% in 2014.
  • In the UK, Lagardère Publishing digital sales represent 26% of Adult Trade(5), compared to 31% in 2014.

Overall in 2015, e-books totalled 9.0% of the division sales (vs. 10.3% in 2014).

The best that can be said for Lagardère is that their publishing division is treading water nicely; it certainly isn’t growing, not even after acquiring several smaller publishers in 2015,

image by Gavin St. Ours

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A. Nony Mous February 12, 2016 um 4:53 pm

There’s an easy-to-remember policy for dealing with publishers. Look at ebook pricing and DRM.

If a publisher (e.g. Bookstrand, Baen and others) charges reasonable prices and doesn’t use DRM, buy the book. Period. End of story.

If a publisher commits either sin (price gouging, DRM), (e.g. S&S, HarperCollins, Hachette), they’re fair game for doing the book shopping in Tortuga or Port Royal.

Alexander Inglis February 12, 2016 um 7:11 pm

This is a good example of "be careful of what you wish for". The Big Six (now Big Four) won the right to make up their prices and force higher prices on consumers. Then they didn’t … but prices went even higher anyway. I am less convinced DRM is an issue — I think it’s mainly pricing. Picking one new release at random — Lisa Gardner’s "Find Her" — is a mere CDN$18.99 at both Amazon and Kobo. The hardcover is $25.00 (Amazon, Indigo) and they don’t even sell a paperback edition in Canada. Good luck with that sort of marketing.

Mackay Bell February 12, 2016 um 7:41 pm

But I thought Lee Child said that AE is underestimating all the blockbuster sales of ebooks the big publishers are making when they first release an ebook on Amazon. Aren’t there supposed to be all these extra sales of best sellers floating around that Data Guy missed?

Fbone February 12, 2016 um 9:05 pm

Lee Child sells 6 million copies of each title. He is translated into at least 40 languages and all 20 books are optioned by Hollywood, one starring Tom Cruise. Mr Grant is doing fine regardless of what AE or Amazon says. He may sell mostly in print but a sale is a sale.

Steve H February 12, 2016 um 8:45 pm

I bought Cooks Illustrated baking ebook on Amazon sold by Amazon Digital Services LLC for what I thought was a high price for a good ebook 26.51. Penguin Random House now distributes it now for 39.99–I can get the hardback copy for 23.89 from Amazon. Cooks Meat Book 39.99–I got this ebook on sale for 3.99…Every book from this company is jacked up to within pennies of the print list price by Penguin Random House….Insanity…Forty dollars for an ebook cookbook! The customer service reps I talked to from Cooks Illustrated where unaware. An email will go to their CEO along with one to Penguin Random House.

fjtorres February 12, 2016 um 11:21 pm

Oh, the big losers of the BPH book pricing fiasco aren’t so much the noisy big names like Child. A million more, a million less isn’t going to change his life.

But the downlist authors looking at a low 4-figure advance that won’t earn out in a decade because of the pricing are the real victims of the piece. At least until they smell the coffee, do the math, and go Indie.

Nirmala February 13, 2016 um 5:11 pm

I was fascinated by the section in the latest AuthorEarnings report, where they suggest that instead of driving consumers to brick and mortar stores, high ebook prices may be driving people to buy paper books on….Amazon.

Nate Hoffelder February 13, 2016 um 5:21 pm


High ebook prices drive me to the library.

Steve H. February 13, 2016 um 10:00 pm

I did NOT buy at least 20 fiction books from the Big5 last year. I went to the library system…but for ebooks on Overdrive. No return hassle.

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