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Random hails 'most successful year of all time'

Random House enjoyed a record year in 2012, with worldwide sales up 23% and profits up by 76%. In the UK chief executive Gail Rebuck hailed the performance as the publisher's "most successful year of all time", citing a range of bestsellers as well as e-book sales, now up to 22% of group sales.

Parent Bertelsmann does not split out the the financial figures regionally, but worldwide the group saw revenues increase from €1.7bn to €2.1bn, with operating earnings before interest and tax up from €185m to €325m. Markus Dohle, Random House chairman and chief executive, told employees that 2012 "was one for the record books", a "year like no other before it".

Dohle cited "brilliant books by our talented roster of authors—skillfully edited, positioned, packaged, marketed, sold, and supported by all of you", with cost management, a lower returns rate, and currency effects also impacting favourably on the results.

Bertelsmann said Random House' English, German, and Spanish-language publishing divisions sold more than 70m print, audio, and e-book editions of E L James' Fifty Shades trilogy, making it the fastest-selling series in the company's history.  

In the UK, Random House grew its print sales through Nielsen BookScan by 6.3%, taking it above Hachette with a market share of 14.8%. Aside from Scholastic UK, it was the only major publishing house to grow its physical book sales through Nielsen last year, thanks again to strong sales from the Fifty Shades trilogy, which accounted for 21% of Random House's total TCM figure of £224.1m.

Rebuck described Fifty Shades as a "genuine piece of publishing history", but also highlighted "the plethora of industry firsts and literary awards". "It was the year in which we celebrated record sales and profits, commercial success, industry and literary acclaim", adding that she was "particularly proud that we continue to discover and nurture new talent such as Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which was 2012's bestselling hardback debut novel and RJ Palaccio's Wonder and Simon Mayo's Itch which were the number 1 and 2 Children's debuts".

Rebuck pointed to forthcoming 2013 titles such as Helen Fielding's new Bridget Jones and William Boyd's James Bond, and non-fiction books from Bill Bryson, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Simon Schama, Rick Stein, Mary Berry, Paul Merton and David Jason.

In her letter to staff, Rebuck added: "it was a year that served to remind us of our mission as publishers to curate, with passion and skill, the creative publishing that informs, entertains and inspires. In this new digital era, there are many fresh avenues for publishers to explore, but we must always focus on books and their authors. We are, of course, innovating in the digital sphere; gaining insight into our readers as never before; developing revenue from adjacent businesses and content exploitation and continuing to champion literacy for young and old alike. But whatever new opportunities may be ahead, in particular our planned merger with Penguin, we must remind ourselves that it is the book—in digital or physical form—that continues to have the power to transform lives."

Dohle told staff: "With your know-how and passion, and your collaborative and entrepreneurial spirit, you have expertly navigated the new order of publishing, and positioned us well for future opportunities." He also said the group had completed a "fantastic first quarter" for 2013.

Dohle made brief reference to the impending merger with Penguin, which has cleared regulatory hurdles in the US, Australia and New Zealand, but has yet to be cleared by the European Commission. "By joining our forces while maintaining our imprints' distinct publishing identities, we will expand our authors' reach on a global scale, and connect with readers in new ways. By enhancing our service portfolio, we will bolster our relevance as book publishers. And by pooling our resources and investments, and by leveraging our combined expertise, we will increase our scale—both in print and in digital."

Bertelsmann saw revenues climb from €15.4bn to €16.1bn, with earnings before taxes largely unmoved at €1bn. Bertelsmann said that in the years ahead it was targeting "continued organic and acquisition growth", highlighting education as an area it is now targeting.