WHS sees 4% drop in book sales

WHS sees 4% drop in book sales

Book sales at WH Smith fell by 4% like-for-like in the last six months, but the group reported an overall rise in pre-tax profit of 4% to £72m.

The general retail market for books is "challenging", the company said in its half-yearly results to 28th February 2015, but WHS saw a "stronger December" than the year before "with the quality of publishing still the biggest driver of market performance."

"Kids book sales remain the most resilient and we have adjusted our book space accordingly," WHS said. "In adult (titles), fiction has benefited from improved publishing versus last year, with titles including The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins and The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton."  However, the company added: "Non-Fiction remains challenging, driven by relatively weak publishing versus stronger titles in the prior year, for example, Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography."  

The book and stationery retailer said its approach was to focus on areas of market growth, build on its relative strengths and drive the overall net profitability of the book category. "For example, we continue to drive improvements to our books supply chain and in store processes, which helps deliver margin and efficiency benefits," WHS said. 

Market growth in e-book content has slowed as e-book consumption continues to migrate to apps on tablets rather than dedicated e-reading devices, WHS said, adding that publisher estimates for e-book penetration now stood at around 16% of the total book market, compared to 14-15% at the same time last year.

Overall, group total sales at the six monthly mark were flat with like-for-like sales down 2%. Following the usual trend, WHS Travel stores' total sales were up 7% with with like-for-like sales up 3%, while High Street total sales were down 5% with like-for-like sales down 4%.

The company achieved a 4% rise in half-year pre-tax profits to £72m, despite falling sales in its high street stores.

Stephen Clarke, c.e.o of WHS, said: "The Group has delivered another strong performance. We are seeing improving trends across all formats in Travel, and in High Street our profit focused strategy continued to deliver over the key Christmas trading period...Looking ahead, we will continue to focus on profitable growth and cash generation while investing in new opportunities in both Travel and High Street that position us well for the future."