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Blackwell's losses cut further

Blackwell's has said it is "delighted" with its 2012 financial results after slashing its losses by £3.5m and stepping closer to profitability.

Sales at the academic bookseller dipped 5.5% to £72.8m (£77m in 2011) in the 12 months to 30th June 2012, which beat the average market decline recorded by Nielsen BookScan of 8% during that period.

Blackwell's further reduced its losses, from £5m last year to £1.5m - the 2012 figure represents an 85% reduction in annual losses from 2009, when the total stood at £10.05m.

The company disposed of its Dutch subsidiary Houtschild, which it sold to Bertrams for €1m in June, and it also received  additional funding of £300,000 during the year from Toby Blackwell Limited, the accounts reveal. Two million pounds in savings were made from head office staffing cutbacks as Blackwell's continued to decentralise the business and hand more power to booksellers. The other savings came from reduced property overheads after renegotiating leases (£1.2m), and saving on group costs such as on legal services (£0.8m).

Trevor Goul-Wheeker, Blackwell's chairman, said the company had also received vital help from publishers. "We have had financial support from publishers who have realised that you have got to have books on shelves. They help us in a whole variety of ways, [including]consignment stock," he said.

The company's top performing stores were Edinburgh and Newcastle, and Goul-Wheeker said the company had received a boost from capitalising on university bursary schemes, which more institutions are offering to students in return for the higher fees this academic season. "From £9,000 of fees, up to £1,000 of this could be used on bursary schemes to provide students with core texts," Goul-Wheeker said. "We won over £1m of business in this new financial year which has helped our top-line sales figure."

However, he hit out at the government’s decision to enforce tougher visa restrictions on foreign students which prevent them staying in the country after graduating unless they get a £20,000-a-year job. Many foreign students have been put off by the move. "The government took a knee-jerk reaction on foreign students to get headlines on controlling immigration and I have to say I think it is incredibly shortsighted," Goul-Wheeker said. "They pay a large sum of money to universities which subsidise other students and that has been a double whammy for the higher education sector." He added: "Of course it has also hit book sales. Foreign students are the biggest buyers of books because they will buy entire reading lists."

Blackwell's has made a number of digital partnerships in the last year, partnering with Ingram and CourseSmart to loan digital textbooks and, more recently, with Barnes & Noble to sell Nook devices, which managing director David Prescott said was increasing physical book sales. "Nook device sales are going fantastically well," Prescott said.