Profits at the book publisher Penguin slumped by almost 50% in the first six months, thanks in part to the runaway global success of EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, which is published by a rival, Vintage Books.
The runaway success of Fifty Shades and The Hunger Games helped cut sales at Penguin by 4% to £441m and its adjusted operating profit down 48% to £22m.
“They have distorted the overall books market – Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more than 30m copies,” said Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of Pearson, the parent group of Penguin.
“The US is the only place we are down,” she said. “Those big bestsellers really did take a lot of air out of the market.”
Penguin US published 132 bestsellers in the first half of 2012, compared with 157 in the same period last year, while the UK operation matched its strong performance in the first six months of 2011 with 49 bestsellers. Popular UK titles came from authors including Gok Wan, Rachel Khoo, Antony Beevor and Jojo Moyes.
Ebook sales soared by a third and now account for nearly one in five of Penguin’s total revenue. In 2009 ebooks were just 2% of Penguin’s total revenues, growing to 12% last year.
Scardino said that although the rate of ebooks growth was slowing, she did not have a view on when the increase in Penguin’s digital book revenues would begin to flatten out.
The publisher expects a better performance in the second half, with new titles from well-known authors including Ken Follett, Jamie Oliver and Jeremy Clarkson. Pippa Middleton, sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, will also have a book out.