Book sales down at WHS, but profits rise 9%

Book sales down at WHS, but profits rise 9%

<p>Book sales at W H Smith dropped 3% over the last year in a &quot;soft&quot; book market, with the poor performance of celebrity titles a &quot;key driver&quot; in the downturn. However, overall WHS saw total group profits rise by 9% for the year ended 31st August, after its travel division pulled in a &quot;record performance&quot;.<br /><br />The retailer saw its group profits before tax and exceptional items rise by 9% to &pound;89m over the last year despite the sales decline. The retailer&#39;s travel division saw a &quot;record profit performance&quot; with a growth in operating profit of 10% to &pound;53m, while the high street operating profit rose by 4% to &pound;51m.<br /><br />Group sales dipped by 2% to &pound;1,312m, with like-for-like sales down 4%. WHS Travel saw total sales rise by 1% to &pound;452m, though down 2% on a like-for-like basis. The High Street experienced a drop of 4% at &pound;860m. <br /><br />In books like-for-like sales were down 3%, but gross margin was up year on year. The retailer described the book market as &quot;soft&quot; and said fiction was up year on year, children&#39;s sales flat and non-fiction down. The statement said the reduction in sales of celebrity biographies was &quot;a key driver of market decline over the period&quot;.</p><p>In its trading statement WHS said: &quot;The [travel] division is well-placed for recovery in air passenger numbers. During the year we made further progress in both our established and newer channels and opened a total of 33 units.&quot; The retailer plans to open in six other regional railway stations during 2010/11 and anticipate opening 50 new hospital units over the next five years. <br /><br />Kate Swann, group chief executive, said described the performance as &quot;good&quot; and said the group profit was &quot;ahead of expectations&quot;. She added: &quot;Travel delivered record profit in the year and we saw further profit growth and strong cash generation from High Street.<br /><br />Swan said: &quot;We are a resilient business with a strong and consistent record of both profit growth and cash generation and are well-positioned for continued growth in the future.&quot;</p><p>In addition, the board today also announced the return of up to &pound;50m of cash to shareholders through a rolling share buyback programme. </p>