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Despite the Covid-19 pandemic – or perhaps, though it seems difficult to say, because of the Covid-19 pandemic – the big five publishers in the US all reported increases in sales and profits.  It seems that sales lost through physical bookshops were compensated through online channels as people discovered that reading and the escape and comfort it provides during difficult times, were ‘essential’ even if governments felt that bookshops were not.

Penguin Random House parent company Bertelsmann said: “Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the financial year 2020 was a successful one for Bertelsmann. The international media, services, and education company benefited from the strong quality of its business portfolio and high proportion of digital business models….Strategic milestones during the financial year included the completion of the full acquisition of Penguin Random House in April and the announcement of the acquisition of the renowned U.S. publisher Simon & Schuster in November.”

Thomas Rabe, Chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann, pictured left with Chief Finance Officer Rolf Hellermann, said: “2020 was an exceptional year, which we closed with strong results despite the corona pandemic.”  The company added: “Bertelsmann is optimistic to receive all approvals required from the competition authorities later this year. Penguin Random House delivered a strong publishing and business performance, especially in connection with the great worldwide success of Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, another global bestseller, after Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming.”

Penguin Random House US accounted for more than 58% of PRH’s total revenue, and PRH worldwide CEO Markus Dohle said that in 2021 the publisher would continue to align its resources in sales, marketing, and publicity more “with a marketplace increasingly dependent on the online, e-commerce, and digital channels. Online optimization will help us grow our backlist sales significantly.” He added that PRH would continue to “steadfastly remain a loyal and reliable partner to physical bookstores.”

Sales for 2020 were up 7.9% at HarperCollins, 6.5% at Houghton Mifflin Books & Media and an impressive 10.7% at Simon & Schuster.  It was only Lagardère Publishing that reported a sales dip (0.4%), but that was for its worldwide business.  In the US, sales increased 3.9% on 2019.

Interestingly, it was the Lagardère group that voiced a note of caution for the months ahead.  Its executives wonder whether, as book markets emerge from Covid, will the opening of restaurants and cinemas, and other forms of entertainment, challenge the amount of time people have for reading and, by extension, buying books.