Despite their perfectly reasonable fears in the Spring, Bloomsbury has been doing fine thank you. As The New Publishing Standard tells us they’ve seen a 60% boost in profits for the six months ending 31 August 2020. This is partly attributable to an increase in ebook sales*, up to 30% of the whole, as well as a 2% rise in print sales: a category they had expected to plummet. No doubt salary reductions and other emergency cost cutting helped too. The long and short of it is that the sales disaster that book publishers expected as a result of coronavirus shutdowns just hasn’t materialized. Indeed, counter-intuitive though it may seem, many publishers are on course for a record-breaking year. Just in the last week we have Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins reporting double digit growth. And although troubled Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (revenues down $387 million for the quarter) has announced plans to sell off their trade division, its problems are in the core educational business: trade division sales rose 15.8%, or $7.6 million, to $55.7 million in the last quarter.

Now The Bookseller relates that Bloomsbury has decided to repay to staff the salary cuts they imposed at the beginning of the coronavirus shutdown. 750 staff around the world were affected and they will be getting back £700,000 in pay cuts. You can’t argue that that’s not the right thing to do, can you? A 60% increase in profit is difficult to conceal from your employees.

Mark Williams of NPS twits Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller for getting his knickers into a bit of a twist over whether a 30% increase in digital sales is or isn’t a good thing. Like so many things, your attitude to an increase in ebook sales depends on where you are standing. Publisher — great, especially when you think of Bloomsbury’s profits; printer — bad; self-publisher — hallelujah; author — great, but a bigger royalty would make it even better; employee in a publisher’s manufacturing department — a bit of a worry; bookseller — meh. I do however think it’s fair enough for the editor of a magazine called The Bookseller to express concern about the growth of a sales channel which basically excludes booksellers. Maybe the right approach would have been to think how booksellers might participate in this bit of business. And besides, does anyone think that after coronavirus subsides (fingers crossed) the proportion of sales ebook-print book won’t revert to the norm?


* Because there’s no paper and printing involved in supplying an ebook they will be (all other things remaining equal) more profitable than print book sales. I’ve written about this quite a lot: see for example Yet more on ebook pricing. The trouble is not all book sales are made by ebook (and if they were, there are still significant editorial costs that need to be recovered out of the selling price). Publishers have to make printed books as well as ebooks. Bloomsbury has warehouses-full of printed books. They need to sell these books too, or that’ll put the kibosh on the overall economics of their business. Of course they’ve actually been selling plenty of print books as well as those ebooks, so their larger digital sales are providing a nice helping of gravy. You can rely on the fact that Bloomsbury is quite happy about this.