Hachette UK's revenue fell 5.5% in the first quarter of 2020, parent company Lagardère has reported in its latest financial results.
David Shelley, c.e.o. of Hachette UK, said it had had "a strong start to the year", pointing out HUK had increased its Nielsen Total Consumer Market market share in the first two months of the year, from 11.7% to 12% year-on-year. However sales were affected from the second half of March, he said, "with the full impact of Covid-19 first hitting our export sales and then UK sales once the lockdown started, with our Education business especially affected once UK schools closed down".
In the report, Lagardère put the UK's dip in sales down to "a more subdued literary release schedule", although it said this was "partly countered by the success in all formats of [Andrzej Sapkowski’s] The Witcher series at Orion". Both e-books and downloadable audiobook sales made up a higher proportion of total sales compared to the same period last year. E-books accounted for 17.8% of total UK revenue in first-quarter 2020 versus 16.8% in first-quarter 2019, while downloadable audiobooks accounted for 6.2% versus 3.8% in first-quarter 2019.
Shelley highlighted the success of "major releases" in the first quarter, including: Two Chubby Cubs by James Anderson and Paul Anderson (Hodder & Stoughton) and Life Without Diabetes by Professor Roy Taylor (Short Books); and Richard & Judy titles Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce (Headline), The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (Orion) and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Little, Brown), the last of which has now sold over 600,000 copies year-to-date in all formats.
Looking ahead, Shelley said: "While the lockdown is ongoing, our business will continue to be affected on all fronts, but we have seen notably strong e-book and audiobook sales, with some breakout commercial fiction bestsellers, including The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (Quercus)."
Sales for Lagardère Publishing were down 3.3% like-for-like, at €457m compared to €460m in first-quarter 2019. The company said this was mainly attributable to France–where revenue was down 9.4%–following the closure of most points of sale in the second half of March owing to the health crisis.
There was business growth in the United States, where revenue was up 6.8% for the quarter, contributed to by the rise in downloadable audiobooks (14.4% of sales compared to 10% the year before) fuelled by the success of Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers and The Witcher series.
Revenue in the Spain/Latin America region slipped 2.3%, with March's figures said to be affected by the state of emergency and confinement measures in Spain although Mexico saw "slight growth". Partworks fell 6.1%, with fewer launches this year than last, and again the impact of the pandemic affecting sales at newsstands, especially in France.
"Lagardère Publishing was primarily affected as from the second half of March 2020," Lagardère's report read, "when its brick-and-mortar points of sale closed in Europe and North America following government-imposed restrictions. After a very good start to the year in January–February 2020 with 5.6% growth, Lagardère Publishing revenue fell 19% in March."
Lagardère forecast that April's revenue would be down as much as 45% for Lagardère Publishing.