Hachette UK finished 2014 with a net sales decline of 10% in the final quarter, compared to the same period in 2013 which saw Sir Alex Ferguson claim the Christmas number one, according to annual results released by French parent company Lagardere.
Across 2014 as a whole, Hachette UK saw a sales downturn of 4.6%. Lagardere attributed the fall to the impact of a strong 2013 "which had gained from the exceptional success of Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography as well as The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith".
However c.e.o. Tim Hely Hutchinson said 2014 had been an "outstanding" year, commenting: "While HUK’s like-for-like sales were lower in comparison with our fantastic ‘Alex Ferguson’ year in 2013, our total sales rose because of the acquisitions we made, especially Constable & Robinson and Quercus and some exceptional bestsellers through the year, including: Lynda Bellingham’s There’s Something I’ve Been Dying to Tell You, Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor, Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle’s The Second Half, the paperback of the Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala, Martina Cole’s 13th consecutive number 1 bestseller The Good Life and ongoing sales – at different ends of the spectrum - of Gone Girl and How to Train Your Dragon, fuelled by the success of the films." The group had 29 number one bestsellers in the year including – on 26th October – number ones in all four categories on the Sunday Times bestseller list, Hely Hutchinson said.
He added that digital sales rose by 10% in the year, now representing 23% of Hachette UK's total sales. The publisher's e-book bestsellers included Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (with over one million copies sold), Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, and Robert Galbraiths’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm.
Hely Hutchinson said: "2014 was a year of change for the UK group: we welcomed Constable & Robinson and Quercus to the group and acquired Ilex Press and the Pearson Caribbean list (now Hodder Caribbean) and, at the very end of the year, we acquired Rising Stars to complement and enhance our thriving educational business which now has a 25% share of the Secondary education market.
"We consolidated our sales departments into two home sales and one international division and created the Hachette Children’s Group bringing our children’s publishing together under the leadership of Hilary Murray Hill.
"We have an exceptionally strong publishing programme for 2015 and we are now looking forward to the move to our glorious new building this spring.”
Across Lagardere Publishing as a whole in 2014, which covers activity in the UK, US, France and Spain and Latin America, net sales saw a dip from €2,066m in 2013, to €2,004m in 2014, a fall of 3% on a reported basis, and 4.5% on a like-to-like basis.
The company stated: "It was a year of transition for the division, where activities were, as expected, marked by an unfavourable comparison effect related to the large number of best-sellers released in 2013. Also of note was the significant decline in Education, due to the lack of renewal for Textbook programmes,particularly in France."
Sales in the US were also impacted by the publisher's long-running battle with Amazon, which saw months of negotiation over terms while the online retailer removed pre-order buttons from some Hachette tittles.
In the final quarter of the year, sales in the US were down 8.4% compared with the previous year, which was partly attributed to "the decline in sales of digital, since the agreement with Amazon came only at the very end of the year." In the closing three months, net sales of e-books in the US made up 19% of total sales, compared with 27% in the same period in 2013, due to "weaker publications than in 2013, and to the trade-related issues with Amazon". However in the UK, digital sales grew in the period, from 21% of adult trade sales to 25%.
Across the year as a whole, digital sales for Lagardere Publishing were down from 10.4% of net sales to 10.3%, with the biggest hit coming in the US, where digital sales as a total of trade sales was 26% rather than 30%. In the UK however, digital sales grew, with e-book sales accounting for 31% of adult trade sales, compared to 27% the year before.