Bloomsbury hails outstanding year as COVID-19 lockdowns spark reading revival

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Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (LON:BMY) hailed the public’s renewed love of books during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdowns for helping the publisher smash records in its latest financial year.

“The popularity of reading has been a ray of sunshine in an otherwise very dark year,“ said chief executive Nigel Newton.

It had also been an outstanding year for Bloomsbury, he added, with sales rising by 14.1% to £185mln in the year to end-February 2021 compared to industry growth of 2%.

Profits jumped by 31% to £19.1mln while the dividend for the year rises by 8% to 8.86p.

Shareholders are also getting a special dividend of  9.78p per share costing £8mln.

Newton added it had been a bumper period for the consumer arm of the group in particular with sales up 22% and profits by 61%.

New bestsellers included Humankind by Rutger Bregman, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Outlawed by Anna North and The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes.

Perennial hits continued to sell well led by Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and  Lose Weight and Get Fit by Tom Kerridge, while Harry Potter continues to weave his magic.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were all Sunday Times bestsellers in the year, while Sarah J Maas’ sales grew by 129%.

Newton said the results were ahead of expectations even after two earlier upgrades and predicted another strong year ahead.

“The start of our 2021/22 has seen a continuation of strong trading. Whilst the board remains mindful of the external environment, the outstanding performance in 2020/21 increases our confidence in the strength of the business and long-term strategy.

“At this early stage of the new financial year, and considering the ongoing momentum and strength of our business, Bloomsbury expects revenue to be ahead and profit to be comfortably ahead of market expectations for the year ended 28 February 2022.”

Consensus forecasts are for revenue of £177.5mln and profit before taxation and highlighted items of £17.4mln.

Head of Zeus acquisition

Separately, Bloomsbury announced it had bought Head of Zeus for £7.35mln net.

Head of Zeus is an independent publisher of genre fiction and narrative non-fiction and children’s books, based in London with a list of best-selling authors that include Dan Jones, Cixin Liu, Victoria Hislop, and Lesley Thomson, and Elodie Harper.

Newton added: “Head of Zeus’s entrepreneurial and innovative approach to publishing, and its wide range of trade titles, will make a strong addition to Bloomsbury’s own.  Bloomsbury will be able to provide the scale and digital platforms to boost Head of Zeus’ success.” 

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