Connect Books, which includes book wholesaler Bertram and academic libraries supplier Dawson Books, saw a marginal decline in sales in the 12 months to end-August 2015, following on from what parent company Connect Group described as a "challenging year in 2014".
The star performer within the business was its online retailer Wordery, which grew revenue 65% to £38.3m, referred to by the company as "an impressive performance in just three years since its launch".
Earlier this year, Connect Group acquired the minority 49% stake in Wordery it did not already own for an initial consideration of £5.1m and a possible further £3.3m. The company said investment in Wordery would now "be accelerated, improving the wordery.com website, expanding its international reach and increasing direct to consumer marketing to grow sales and brand awareness".
Overall, the books business reported revenue of £190.1m, compared with £193.7m a year earlier, with the group noting that on a like-for-like basis sales grew 3.1%. Operating profit was £2.6m, up from £2.5m a year earlier. The group said recent trends had seen a good recovery from independent booksellers, supported by improving sales through online retailers and key chains. Library markets, it added, continued to be challenging with tight budgets limiting growth and affecting the order levels anticipated under contract agreements.
The group said it now aimed to "double profitability of the division in the next three years", with a "strong focus on Wordery while investing in the infrastructure of the business". It said its core wholesale offer would be "refocused, with a more rigorous commercial approach fed into pricing and contract tenders” as well as “greater attention to service, targeting productivity and quality metrics that will improve customer experience and reduce overall operating costs".
Overall, the Connect Group recorded sales of £1,875m, up 3.7%, and adjusted profit before tax up 13% to £56.5m. Mark Cashmore, group chief executive, described it as a "transformational year" with profits ahead of expectations.