Review of 2020: The Publishers

Review of 2020: The Publishers

  1. 1

    Penguin Random House: Mackesy, Osman propel list

    Though we do not have 2020 value data, undoubtedly Penguin Random House improved on the £346.5m it sold through BookScan in 2019, and maintained its circa-21% print market share—especially since the group did so well at the top of the charts. Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse sold an eye-popping 932,000 units, almost 500,000 more copies than any book not written by Richard Osman. Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club outsold the next biggest novel last year by 340,000 copies. It was not just that duo: 18 of 2020’s top 50 titles were PRH-issued, a 36% share.
    Penguin had eight of PRH’s 18 top 50 titles, evenly split between Penguin General and Michael Joseph, with a mix of the old (Jamie Oliver, Jojo Moyes) and the new (Osman, Barack Obama and the sadly now late Captain Sir Tom Moore). 

    Backlist surged last year, which no doubt helped PRH Children’s. It had 324 titles in the full-year TCM Top 5,000, an uplift of almost 10%, driven by back-catalogue brands such as Jeff Kinney, Roald Dahl, Eric Carle, and a cartoon pig: Ladybird had 75 titles in the TCM 5,000, 60 of which were from the Peppa Pig stable/sty. Rhiannon Fielding and Chris Chatterton’s 10 Minutes to Bed series was the picture book breakout, perhaps striking a chord with harassed, homeschooling parents. 

    Ebury starred at Random House with Mackesy, David Attenborough, Yotam Ottolenghi and Glennon Doyle, whose inspirational memoir Untamed may have benefited from being released in a pandemic—and an effusive endorsement from singer Adele. The Jack Reacher transitional period did not hurt Transworld: Lee and Andrew Child’s The Sentinel shifted £2.4m in the autumn, on par with Lee Child's last solo Reacher, Blue Moon.

  2. 2

    Hachette: strength in depth pays off

    Hachette stuttered in 2019, with a paucity of hits and most of its divisions having poor TCM years. What a difference a year makes—even a pandemic one. Hachette had the hits in 2020, and then some. It more than tripled the amount of titles earning more than £1m in print (from five to 17), and 28 of its titles shifted a six-figure volume last year; in 2019, only 11 of its books did so. 

    Little, Brown led the way with three of Hachette’s top five: Robert Galbraith’s (a.k.a. J K Rowling) Troubled Blood (£1.9m), Stephenie Meyer’s Midnight Sun (£2.4m) and Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. The last was Hachette’s bestseller in volume and value terms, a slow-burn hit that only notched up its first Mass-Market fiction number one in December 2020, after 42 consecutive weeks in the Top 50. 

    Orion had a stonking year, claiming seven of those £1m-plus titles, ranging across crime (Ian Rankin, Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient), award-winning débuts (Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie), sport (Arsène Wenger’s memoir), lifestyle (Dick and Angel Strawbridge’s A Year at the Chateau) and canny pandemic publishing: Dear NHS, the Adam Kay-edited stories of thank yous to frontline NHS workers, with profits going to charities. 

    Rowling’s The Ickabog turned over £2.4m in less than two months on sale, becoming Hachette Children’s second bestselling book ever, trailing only Giles Andrae’s Giraffes Can’t Dance. Quercus’ big hit of lockdown was, er, Lockdown, Peter May’s thriller originally written in 2005 and set amid a locked-down London in the throes of a deadly pandemic. The novel was rejected by his publisher at the time for being too unrealistic. Will May dig out an unpublished novel he wrote a decade ago about a fascist mob overrunning the US Capitol? Time will tell.

  3. 3

    HarperCollins: Egmont buy boosts publisher

    HarperCollins is the one of the Big Four publishers we can say that, with absolute certainty, increased its UK print footprint last year, as it acquired Egmont, with its circa-£12m annual British physical book sales haul, in May 2020. But even without Egmont, HC is undoubtedly on the up given the strong year it had across its estate.

    It bears repeating how important David Walliams and illustrator Tony Ross are to HC Children’s, and the group as a whole. The duo claimed HC’s three top sellers of the year, five of its top 10, and nine of its top 100. HC’s data through key accounts shows Walliams’ sales were just over three million units in 2020. 

    The home-schooling shift in consumer buying patterns in the pandemic was most pronounced at Collins. In 2019, it had three titles in HC’s top 100, with its bestseller (Writing Workbook Ages 3-5) in 55th. Last year it had 17 of HC’s top 100 and five of its top 50, led by Telling the Time Ages 5-7 in 18th. 

    Hilary Mantel’s eagerly awaited Thomas Cromwell finale The Mirror and the Light (Fourth Estate) had three weeks in the sun before Lockdown 1.0 made the data go dark, but HC’s internal sales show how strongly it continued to sell, shifting just under 259,000 units across 2020. It was a great year for HarperFiction, with standouts from young guns such as Lucy Foley and Bridget Collins, while saga superstar Dilly Court had three of HC’s six top selling fiction titles by volume. 

    HQ scored its first two overall number ones in 2020: no-nonsense beauty influencer Caroline Hirons’ Skincare, and Finding Freedom, royal reporters Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand’s take on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s escape from the House of Windsor. Hirons’ book shifted just under 154,000 copies, the only non-fiction title in HC’s top 10.

  4. 4

    Pan Macmillan: Pan Mac propelled by Pinch pair

    If any of the Big Four declined in print value sales year on year, it was Pan Mac—but only because it was coming off a monumental record year in 2019, when it recorded sales of £95.2m, 25% up on the previous year. Pan Mac internal estimates of full-year data show 2020 volume sales of 11.8 million units, which would be its second best year in the publisher’s storied history. 

    Once again, Bluebird led the way with its Pinch of Nom stars Kay Featherstone and Kate Allinson, who account for Pan Mac’s top three titles; collectively, they shifted just over a million units. Joe Wicks, soon off to HarperCollins on a free transfer, chipped in with 207,000 copies sold across his two 2020 titles: Wean in Fifteen and 30-Day Kick Start Plan

    Picador saw its Booker winner, Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, sell just under 160,000 units, while Adam Kay’s perennial bestseller This is Going to Hurt notched another 169,000 copies, no doubt helped by its NHS theme. 

    But, as was the case in 2019—and indeed throughout the last several years of Pan Mac’s current purple patch—the huge hits of course help the cause, but the publisher’s strength is the across-the-board solidity of its programme. Pan had a great year with the likes of a surging Ann Cleeves, plus Peter James, David Baldacci and Jeffrey Archer. In non-fiction, there were robust years for Amanda “the Yorkshire Shepherdess” Owen, historian David Olusoga and the rather aptly named nature writer Isabella Tree. 

    At Macmillan Children’s the big brands rule, with Rod Campbell’s classic Dear Zoo leading the way (113,000 units) and, of course, Julia Donaldson. The division had 134 titles in the 2020 TCM Top 5,000, almost half of which (63) were written by Donaldson.

  5. 5

    Bloomsbury: backlist boosts the numbers

    A robust year for Bloomsbury across its trade publishing: it increased its footprint in the TCM and notched up its first overall UK number one in over two years—and its first not written by Tom Kerridge in more than 12 years. 

    Of course, that number one was a two-year old book. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race propelled up the charts in difficult circumstances after George Floyd’s tragic death and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests. It shifted almost 245,000 units in 2020—the bulk since June—after selling a strong 169,000 copies from its 2018 release to the end of 2019. 

    J K Rowling’s star remains undimmed, with seven of her original Harry Potters in Bloomsbury’s top 10; plus, the £62.99 complete box set earned £1.2m last year. She shifted just over one million units for Bloomsbury Children’s in 2020, a marginal rise on 2019, and an excellent result given the exciting year she had on social media. Meanwhile, the Katherine Rundell-edited The Book of Hopes—an anthology to help children through difficult times—was shortlisted for the Waterstones Book of the Year. 

    For the first time in five years, Kerridge wasn’t Bloomsbury’s top selling cookery tome. That honour went to Shamil Thakrar, Kavi Thakrar and Naved Nasir’s Dishoom, which continued selling strongly in hardback into its second year. Dishoom shifted almost 86,000 copies for £1m, to the 76,000 (£832,000) notched by Kerridge’s Lose Weight & Get Fit

    Fiction had a quieter year than other parts of the business, though, with no title shifting over 100,000 units. But it was a decent year on the prize circuit, led by Ann Patchett’s Women’s Prize-longlisted The Dutch House and Kiley Reid’s breakout début Such a Fun Age, which was longlisted for the Booker.

  6. 6

    Bonnier Books UK: young blood leads the way

    It is interesting to see the shift in strategy at Perminder Mann’s Bonnier Books UK, two years on from the departure of former c.e.o. Richard Johnson. A revitalised Zaffre is leading the way, with 16 of the company’s top 20 books of 2020 coming from the adult fiction division. And it is not necessarily the big brands lured over in the Johnson years, although Lynda La Plante is certainly proving her worth: Buried and The Dirty Dozen combined to shift 175,000 units last year. 

    It has been the homegrown, the débuts and the up-and-comers leading the charge, with Christy Lefteri’s The Beekeeper of Aleppo front and centre. Bonnier estimates it sold nearly 295,000 print copies last year, making it the UK's third-bestselling mass market fiction title. Early career novelists such as Stacey Halls (once of this parish) and T M Logan have starred, and Heather Morris, whose The Tattooist of Auschwitz continues to sell well (and to be fair, was acquired during the Johnson years for a song). 

    In non-fiction, the smash was Carl Chinn’s Peaky Blinders (John Blake), a history of the Birmingham gangs the hit BBC show is based on. Chinn’s title, and a follow-up, shifted 96,000 copies last year. Other non-fiction hits were Ollie Ollerton’s Break Point, which sits in the Ant Middleton military/self-improvement space, and Andrew Flintoff’s sport humour book, Right, Said Fred

    In children’s, there have been inroads in brand building, such as Andy Shepherd and Sue Oglivie’s The Boy Who Grew Dragons series and Konnie Huq’s Tom Gates-esque Cookie! But licensed properties are the big earners, from Igloo Books' budget ranges and Autumn Publishing’s Disney tie-ins. In fact, Bonnier’s top selling children’s product last year was the Disney Storybook Collection Advent Calendar, which hit 191st place in the overall TCM.