Bloomsbury raises profit forecasts as readers escape ‘too much reality’

Readers are turning to fantasy books to escape grim headlines about the cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine, according to Bloomsbury Publishing that said annual sales and profits would be ahead of expectations.

The group, which publishes JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, said there was increased demand for books by fantasy fiction authors such as Sarah J Maas, prompting it to upgrade its forecasts.

“People have had too much reality, they’re turning to books as an enjoyable form of escape from quotidian worries,” said chief executive Nigel Newton. “It’s first and foremost the fallout from war and the cost of living crisis.”

Bloomsbury said on Wednesday that it had contracted US writer Maas, whose success is partly attributable to the BookTok social media trend on TikTok, for seven further books. Her A Court of Thorns and Roses series is currently being made into a television series by Hulu. 

“These writers have built up huge followings, who are absolutely desperate to know what happens in the next series. So I think those authors will continue to do extremely well,” said Newton.

Other authors that the publisher said were driving sales included the Oxford historian Peter Frankopan, for his new world history of environmental change The Earth Transformed, and dystopian fiction writer Samantha Shannon.

The UK publisher expects revenue for the year ended February 28 to be more than £260mn, compared with market expectations of £242.6mn. Full-year profit before tax and “highlighted items” will be about £30mn, rather than the expected £26.9mn.

Newton told the Financial Times that the cost of living crisis was nudging people towards books as an “affordable pastime”, while more expensive household expenditure was put on hold by those struggling with high energy bills and inflation. 

“Let’s face it, a paperback book costs £6.99, which is less than a month’s membership of a streaming service that you do not use as much as you used to,” he said.

He said Bloomsbury’s academic publishing division was also doing well owing to the increasing numbers of school and university students in rapidly growing Asian countries such as India. “The demand for teaching materials in print or increasingly digitally are a tremendous opportunity,” he said.

Analysts at Investec said the performance of Bloomsbury “continues to impress”, noting that the “virtuous flywheel” of good content in fiction and academia offered further growth opportunities. 

Bloomsbury’s shares were up 7.5 per cent by midday in London trading to 452p. Their value has risen almost 200 per cent in the past five years.


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