Bloomsbury

Go Read This | Bloomsbury Publishing PLC Acquisition of Hart Publishing

Really clear communication of strategy by public companies is not a given, so when I see it, I take note. Bloomsbury has been following a very clear strategy for some time, acquire bolt on (though not necessarily small) companies that add value in areas the company is seeking to expand.

The companies acquired have generally had one or both of two key ingredients. The first of these is intellectual property that can be exploited cross-platform and which compliment Bloomsbury’s existing IP, often such companies have not yet taken full advantage of the web. The second ingredient is either a promising digital play or a digital play that has already shown promise. Hart seems to fit both those features quite well:

The acquisition is consistent with Bloomsbury’s strategy to increase its proportion of academic and professional revenues to 50% of total sales in five years’ time. Academic and professional revenues are more predictable and have lower related costs of sale with higher margins and are much less reliant on retail bookshop sales. Around 50% of Hart’s revenue is generated outside the UK, thereby increasing Bloomsbury’s benefit from the global book market. The acquisition will also enable the Company to further develop its e-book publishing and expand the Bloomsbury Professional digital suite of services.

via Bloomsbury Publishing PLC Acquisition of Hart Publishing Limited – WSJ.com.

Bloomsbury’s Interesting Results

I don’t know why I find Bloomsbury so fascinating, I just do! Maybe it’s because they published the Harry Potter series, maybe it’s their fantastic cookbooks but I think it more likely, given the nerd that I am, that I find their medium to long-term strategy so interesting, this shift away from a reliance on trade towards educational, professional and information based publishing activities.

There is much to ponder in their half-year results but I want to focus on three points, two digital related one not.

Item the first, great sign of the robust nature of the UK digital market, Bloomsbury saw ebooks sales as a percentage of group revenue rise some 66% in terms of group turnover. Without that bounce, the company would have seen an overall drop in top line revenue. I wonder when that might be a problem for them? If print sales do not get a lift but ebook sales continue to rise, when will the revenue problem manifest in that top line revenue figure?

Digital sales mainly comprise ebook sales, which are up by 89% year on year to £4.5 million (2011: £2.4 million). Ebook sales now represent 10% of total Group continuing turnover (2011:  6%) and 15% of the Adult division continuing turnover (2011: 9%).

Item the second, this huge increase has the strange and I would imagine annoying effect of increasing the seasonality of the company’s results! Did we expect this outcome? I guess the answer is to shift reporting seasons to at least exclude January from the second half results?

Ebook sales peak in January and February following the sale of e-reader devices at Christmas and academic sales peak at the beginning of the academic year, in September and October. As these two revenue streams form a higher proportion of total turnover, the proportion of our results accruing in the second half of the financial year increases. 

Item the third, strategy pays off at just the right time. So the children’s division saw a £2.8 million drop in sales! That’s right totally offsetting the gains in ebook sales. What’s more it went from a £0.9 million profit to £0. Yet at the same time the information division delivered in spades.

The division generated 4% of Group continuing sales in the six months ended 31 August 2012 (2011: 4%) and 41% of Group continuing operating profit before highlighted items (2011: 15%). Continuing turnover in the Information division increased by 21% year on year to £1.8 million  (2011: £1.5 million).

Which is a very nice way of say that the margins on this end of the business are totally insane compared to the rest of the business! We know that group profit for the half was £2.1 million and that the Information Division delivered 41% of that or £800,000 give or take. Thus the division had a margin of 44% or so. Diversification and changing the focus away from Trade & Children’s books has saved Bloomsbury’s shareholders from a nasty surprise.

The strategy has worked, and worked well. It’s nice to see in an era when we don’t tend to think of publishers as innovative or rapid actors.

Author Services In The Light Of Penguin’s Purchase

I started this post back in April, I REALLY wish I’d published it then! Following Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions (DBW, The Bookseller) I’ve reworked it somewhat and added a few ideas around that move.

It all started at the London Book Fair this year, an event which brought to the fore for me questions over what will happen to publishers during this radical digital shift? A number of times, either as part of a conversation or in response to questions about the publisher role in the future, I spoke about Author Services or as I prefer to think of it, changing the editorial department from a cost centre to a profit and revenue centre.

But what does that really mean? Well it turns out that in the background several companies have been thinking about exactly that. Some companies have been busy creating product suites that cater to the diverse needs of authors.

A really good example of someone who is moving into the space in a measured and clever way is Bloomsbury through their  Writers & Artists Yearbook site. What was once  a staid old handbook of contacts has, over the last number of years, been recast as something entirely different, something very impressive.

The property was acquired as part of the A&C Black acquisition is also home to a number of other print products that have since transitioned fairly nicely to digital or represent an impressive list for future transition (the company has a fascinating history, worth reading, here).

What they offer ranges according to what you think you need from the very beginning of the process (you can get a book idea assessed for only £119.99) to the end of it (a meet the agent, beat the rejection pile meeting for £199). The one thing they don’t yet offer is actual help with self publishing, but that is a fairly simple step beyond what they currently offer.

The big opportunity is not so much to draw in new content from those who might otherwise self publish, but rather to create viable and real businesses from the editorial (and I suppose the production) departments that currently cost so much money.

Offerings like that at Writers & Artists Yearbook and their existing and future competitors will, I suggest, probably form the front end of the editorial departments of many publishers when the transition is complete. It is entirely possible that they will be independent entities or only loosely aligned with publishers, but it is equally possible that at some point, a vast transfer of staff will happen that sees the editorial department of a publisher shifting towards the newly created services units.

Imagine how it would be if Penguin was to reshape its business so that Author Solutions (or whatever it is renamed) provided the editorial resources (staffed no doubt by Penguin editors) to Penguin as one client among many (perhaps with privileges the others don’t have) it would change the way the company thinks of editorial services.

If all publishers decided to take that radical step (and I admit right now it IS radical), it would enable publishers to subsidize new titles by generating revenue on what have been traditionally expensive services to provide. Of course it would certainly change the way everyone thinks of that department and would probably lead to some resentment both within those departments and between the authors who were made to pay for them and the lucky authors who publishers felt were safe enough bets to invest in themselves.

I think we are only at the beginning of this re-shaping of publishers but the first big change we are seeing is in how we think about the editorial department (though some changes are hitting home hard in sales and marketing too).

Why JK Rowling’s New Book Might NOT Be A Boon For Booksellers

I’ve been seeing quite a bit of commentary about J K Rowling’s newly announced book along the lines of the tweet below(1):

The Bookseller also reported some great positive comments like:

Jonathan Ruppin, Foyles web editor, said: “It is clearly huge news, it is the talk of the office already. It will be the biggest selling book of that time, I am sure other publishers will move their books out of schedules to make room for it.

But the truth is there are reasons to expect that the book will NOT be a boost to booksellers. Many reasons in fact, but here are just four:

1) Supermarkets. Like they did with Harry Potter, it seems highly likely that supermarkets will attempt to attract buyers into their stores by selling the new book below cost. Such competition makes such highly hyped titles difficult to sell for independent booksellers and even chains have trouble competing with the likes of Tesco.

2) Ebooks. Well the truth is that booksellers will largely NOT benefit from ebook sales, rather Amazon, Apple and Kobo along with whoever sells the ebook editions will.

3) Online Sales. I suppose the online retailers will do well, but pre-orders, especially through Amazon and Amazon owned sites will probably be the key winner in this space, rather than through independent or chain bookstores.

4) The Economy. So J K Rowling will do well from this but in an environment where free cash is limited the likelihood is that the book will simply change purchasing patterns in the book trade rather than expand the market. Rowling’s big name will attract money and books released around the same time will do less well than they might have with the overall impact being neutral to moderately positive rather than massive. Thus isn’t, I stress, an attack on Rowling, simply the reality of how things go.

All told I’m fairly pleased to see Rowling move past Potter and I think it was wise to move publisher at the same time enabling a proper brand extension. There’s a big part of me hopes that I am wrong, but a bigger part that expects to be right!

Eoin

(1) And I am not picking on The O’Brien Press here!

Go Read This | Bloomsbury Institute enters reader events market | The Bookseller

This does not terribly surprise me, but it is an interesting move and marks a move forward in the pace of Bloomsbury’s determination to diversify its revenue streams away from books, especially trade books:

Bloomsbury has set up a literary events arm called Bloomsbury Institute, hosting literary salons, lectures and book clubs, as well as providing sessions for unpublished writers.

Claire Daly, previously festival co-ordinator for the Soho Literary Festival, has been appointed as Bloomsbury Institute events manager, with upwards of 30 events planned a year, in addition to new events and masterclasses expanding the established programme for unpublished writers offered under the Writers & Artists Yearbook brand.

via Bloomsbury Institute enters reader events market | The Bookseller.

Go Read This | Book Trade Announcements – Bloomsbury Acquires Continuum

Another incredibly sensible acquisition by Bloomsbury and yet another that pulls them further away from the territory of a strict trade publisher. Good for them:

Bloomsbury’s strategy has been to increase its proportion of academic and professional revenues compared to trade revenues through retail channels. The current strength of the Groups academic sales compared to consumer sales vindicates this strategy. Academic revenues are more predictable and have lower related costs of sale with resulting higher margins, and are much less reliant on retail bookshop sales. Around 60% of Continuums sales are outside the UK, thereby increasing Bloomsburys exposure to the global book market. Through this acquisition, for the first time, Bloomsbury will have an academic editorial and marketing team in the US. Bloomsbury has an excellent track record in exploiting digital opportunities; this acquisition will enable us to develop Continuums 7,000 strong backlist through conversion to e-book formats and the creation of new subscription based academic services.

via booktrade.info – Book Trade Announcements – Bloomsbury Acquires Continuum.

Go Read This | Bloomsbury acquires National Archives backlist | The Bookseller

An interesting and sensible move this:

Bloomsbury has purchased the backlist of The National Archives Publishing programme, and entered into an agreement to co-publish a range of forthcoming titles.

The National Archives of the United Kingdom, in Kew, holds more than 1,000 years of government files from Foreign and Home Office records to colonial and military documents, with more than 80 million digitised records.

via Bloomsbury acquires National Archives backlist | The Bookseller.