Bloomsbury titles on display at a shop
Bloomsbury’s profits before tax in the year ending in February jumped nearly a third to £17.3m

Bloomsbury Publishing has cast off fears that demand for reading might wane once lockdowns end as it raised profit guidance for the third time this year.

Nigel Newton, founder and chief executive of the company behind the Harry Potter books, told the Financial Times that the pandemic-induced surge in reading had continued even as restrictions eased around the world.

“People are still reading, even though they can do many of the things they used to do,” he said. “This idea of reading becoming a habit again is central to my optimism.”

The UK-based publisher on Wednesday said profits before tax in the year ending in February jumped nearly a third to £17.3m, as sales grew 14 per cent to £185.1m.

Newton said that readers had turned to “established great books”, with interest in older titles helping boost margins as the cost of commissioning, editing and marketing them had fallen in previous years. Margins were also helped by a surge in subscriptions to the publisher’s digital resources for academics.

Bloomsbury said it expected profits in the next financial year to be “comfortably” ahead of expectations, and Newton told the FT that online sales had continued to be “very strong” even as bookshops have reopened in many countries.

Reading is one of the habits that have crept back into people’s lives as they have been largely stuck at home during the pandemic, whether for escapism or advice on other lockdown hobbies such as cooking or gardening.

Newton said success during the period was about having “the right books at the right time’‘, and pointed out that Bloomsbury’s 14 per cent jump in sales compared to sector-wide growth in the UK of 2 per cent.

The best-selling titles included Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, a book originally published in 2017 that surged in popularity following last year’s Black Lives Matters protests around the world.

The results prompted Bloomsbury to raise its final dividend 10 per cent to 7.58p a share, on top of a special dividend of 9.78p a share to compensate shareholders for a cancelled payout last year. Earlier this year, the group repaid the government furlough support that it received in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.

Bloomsbury’s share price was up nearly 6 per cent in early trading on Wednesday. Its market capitalisation surpassed its pre-pandemic level late last year.

The publisher, which makes 64 per cent of sales outside the UK, is attempting to broaden its portfolio. Recent investments in academic publishing have included the £3.7m acquisition of humanities-focused Red Globe Press from Springer Nature Group in April.

But the company’s consumer division, which caters to adults and children and grew revenues by more than a fifth, still makes up almost three-quarters of sales.

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