Publishers are optimistic about the next six months, despite a number of big houses turning in their worst first half-year Nielsen BookScan TCM sales performances for years, with e-book growth already beginning to compensate for the decline in high street sales.
Some publishers put the blame for weakened sales partly on Waterstone's "turning the taps off" pre-buyout, with others now hopeful that the chain's revival under new m.d. James Daunt could put things back on an even keel.
According to an analysis of Nielsen BookScan's half-year figures (see Flagship Feature), print sales across the whole TCM have declined by 3%, or £22.2m, to £677.4m, representing the lowest half-year total since 2005. Hachette remains the top UK publisher in terms of revenue, recording £87.9m of sales in the first 26 weeks of 2011, compared with second place Random House, which logged up £80.5m worth of sales. However, these results represent Hachette's worst first half-year performance since 2003, and RH's worst since 2002.
Meanwhile, though HarperCollins gained in market share, its first half-year print sales total of £46.4m represents its worst since records began in 2001. Penguin, however, along with Pan Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Usborne, chalked up its best first half year through the TCM since 2001, up 11% to £73m. Pan Macmillan, S&S and Usborne were up 14%, 11% and 28% respectively compared with the same period in 2010. Bloomsbury's sales grew by 8%, to £13.3m.
Hachette c.e.o. Tim Hely Hutchinson was among the heads of houses highlighting e-book sales' importance over the past six months. He said: "No meaningful conclusions can be drawn from an analysis of book sales that does not include e-books. Sales of our e-books are escalating at a phenomenal rate, with a year-on-year increase in the period of over 500% . . . Sales of e-books will continue to grow to around 10% of trade sales by the end of the year."
Random House c.e.o. Gail Rebuck added: "Digital now represents over 8% of our sales and in terms of the combined total of our digital and physical sales, we are ahead of last year."
A HarperCollins statement reiterated the impossibility of assessing publishers' performance without digital sales statistics, and reported a "huge surge to HC's digital sales" in the first half of 2011: "[In June] e-books made up 14% of HarperFiction's UK revenues and 8% of HC's UK home trade revenue." HarperCollins added that it has seen good growth in other areas, such as education, not measured by BookScan.
According to Pan Macmillan, e-book sales represented 8.7% of total trade sales over the first half of the year.
Publishers expressed relief over Waterstone's sale, with some attributing slowing sales to the uncertainty before it was bought by Alexander Mamut. Faber sales and marketing manager Will Atkinson, speaking for the Independent Alliance which was down 16%, said: "Waterstone's turning the taps off before the buy-out was difficult, particularly given the time of year—summer and Christmas are slightly more mass market but January to May is very much an Alliance time so we were particularly vulnerable." Hely Hutchinson described the Waterstone's uncertainty as having had a "significant impact on sales of both the front and backlists". Pan Macmillan m.d. Anthony Forbes Watson called the purchase of Waterstone's "the best news so far this year", saying it answered the question of how to continue to put books in front of readers.
Atkinson was among those looking forward to the next six months, saying the Alliance's Christmas should be strong, with S&S m.d. Ian Chapman also "really excited" about the rest of the year.
Publishers such as Penguin and Hachette both highlighted the importance of success with children's titles, with Penguin m.d. Tom Weldon saying Penguin's sales growth had been "largely driven by our children's division".