Bloomsbury: from frog to prince and back again?

Harry Potter may have transformed Bloomsbury's fortunes, but will the trick soon wear off?

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Last Updated: 02 Oct 2012

Bloomsbury this week published its annual figures, which showed its revenues doubled to £150.2m for the year ending in December. An estimated £70m of that came from sales of Harry Potter’s final book, the Deathly Hallows, to which Bloomsbury holds the rights in the UK and some other English-speaking nations outside the US. It’s been a true fantasy for the company, which can now boast the rare honour of being a powerful, medium-sized independent publisher.

But as the boy wizard himself discovered, suddenly becoming a superstar isn’t without it’s problems. With no more Potter tales lurking up Rowling’s wizard’s sleeve, there are concerns over Bloomsbury’s growth potential. In December 2006, the company issued a severe profits warning as autobiographies of David Blunkett and Take That’s Gary Barlow failed to capture the public’s imagination quite as fervently as Rowling’s tales of Hogwarts. Funny that. 

Bloomsbury may be about to discover that, while suddenly achieving something incredible is of course fantastic, when it suddenly finishes you may well be left in a tougher position than you were before. In Bloomsbury’s case, with a load of shareholders expecting a repeat of the trick.

It’s now seeking new avenues, what it describes as ‘specialist publishing’. That doesn’t mean a move towards racier material. Rather it will seek to bolster its coffers by producing reference materials for the Qatar Financial Centre Authority, as well as publishing established names such as Khaled Hosseini, William Boyd, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Bloomsbury is putting a brave face on this potentially troubling spell, claiming it’s ‘well postioned for the post-Harry Potter era’. The business has apparently cut £1.75m of costs and identified a further £780,000 of savings.

Still, it may well struggle to impress investors – the golden boy really did bring a magic touch to its figures. Turnover in its children's division increased 261% to £98.2m, from £27.4m in 2006, a year in which there was no new Harry Potter title. Bloomsbury cited the sales of Deathly Hallows as the ‘main contributor’ to the £70.8m improvement. Deathly Hallows sold a record 2.65m copies in the first 24 hours after its July release in the UK. Rowling has sold more than 350m of the books, with each selling hotter than the last, and had people queuing in the streets.

Even without new titles, analysts estimate the Potter series could still generate Bloomsbury more than £1m a year in profit, although the prices are likely to fall over time. Meanwhile, it’ll have to put its energy into pushing their other established authors. And attempt the impossible by sprinkling some magic over David Blunkett’s life story.

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