Bloomsbury profits boosted by e-book boom

LONDON Tue May 22, 2012 4:49am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - A slew of best-selling electronic books helped boost profits at Britain's Bloomsbury Publishing (BLPU.L) as the book industry continues its shift to digital, and the firm said it would look to academic titles for a larger part of future growth.

Bloomsbury, the publisher of the "Harry Potter" series by author JK Rowling, also said it was counting on a new Rowling three-book box set tied into the Potter series, and a non-fiction account of spies in World War II to support sales in the coming year.

Pretax profit at the publisher rose 13.6 percent to 4.8 million pounds ($7.6 million) for the year ended February 29, while its operating profit margin before adjustments increased to 12.4 percent from 9.1 percent last year.

The share of Bloomsbury's sales contributed by e-books doubled to 6 percent from 2011, as sales of the digital form more than doubled to reach 5.7 million pounds from 2.2 million pounds in 2011.

In the UK, Bloomsbury's main market, e-book sales remain a small part of all countrywide sales for the firm - just three percent, compared to the 23 percent of U.S. sales made up of e-books.

"We anticipate most markets will reach the US level of e-book sales in the near to medium term future," Bloomsbury said on Tuesday.

"E-book reader usage is still at an early stage in many of our markets and new and improved reading devices are being competitively marketed, including color tablets and mobile phone applications."

The publisher is also looking forward to strong sales this year of "Three Good Things" by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the British celebrity chef and Channel 4 television personality who advocates a "back-to-basics" approach to cooking.

A taste for dystopian young adult fiction, stoked by the novel and movie "The Hunger Games," would lead to growth in "paranormal writing," Bloomsbury said.

Bloomsbury is also focused on growing in academic and professional publishing, and purchased academic publisher Continuum last year. Its academic division now contributes nearly a quarter of the company's sales, compared to 17 percent last year.

Shares in Bloomsbury closed at 106.5 pence on Monday, valuing the firm at 79 million pounds. ($1 = 0.6328 British pounds)

(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Sarah Young)