COVID-19: Harry Potter publisher hails books boom as 'ray of sunshine' during dark year

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Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury has said it is on course for bigger than expected profits after a surge in reading that provided a "ray of sunshine" over the past year.

The company said an "exceptional sales performance" in February meant earnings would be "significantly" ahead of market expectations - even after a previous upgrade in January.

Bloomsbury pointed to the popularity of both adult and children's titles last month, citing titles such as A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J Maas - published on 16 February - and Outlawed by Anna North.

It also mentioned the success of We Are Bellingcat by Eliot Higgins, and Susanna Clarke's Piranesi, winner of Audiobook of the Year 2021, as well as strong sales of its back catalogue including JK Rowling's Harry Potter series.

Chief executive Nigel Newton said: "The popularity of reading during lockdown is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise very dark last year.

"February, the final month of our financial year, saw an exceptional sales performance for Bloomsbury as the surge in reading continued."

Bloomsbury said it now expected results for the year to end of February to beat market expectations of £171m in revenue and underlying pre-tax profits of £14.8m.

That prompted shares to jump by as much as 15%.

Mr Newton added that the company does not yet know "how consumer behaviour will change as academic institutions, shops and leisure activities re-open and whether this popularity will continue as restrictions are lifted".

Bloomsbury said it had repaid £63,000 of government furlough funding as well as temporary salary reductions for staff which were imposed from March to May last year.

Its full-year results are due to be published in June.

Figures from market research firm Nielsen show that lockdowns and other restrictions helped lift sales volumes for printed books by 5.2% last year.

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