Obama’s memoir drives boom for Penguin after publishing’s pandemic pause

Cons. Discr. - Durables 346 Cons. Discr. - Retailing 311 Coronavirus 430 Germany 213 U.S. 4634

The release of the first part of former President Obama’s presidential memoir has required the production of three million copies of the book, including the shipping of copies from Germany, The Economist reports. The increased use of e-books has not obviated the need for significant supply chains for printed material, particularly for landmark books such as Obama’s.

Panjiva data shows that U.S. seaborne imports of printed books linked to the publisher Penguin Random House jumped 77.8% year over year in October, likely reflecting the shipments of Obama’s books among others. A 69.7% spike in shipments in September 2018 likely came as a result of the release of Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”.

The book supply chain also has to handle significant seasonality with shipments in September and October ahead of the holiday gift giving season with peak shipments typically 3.6x the level of the spring trough. 

Penguin’s book surge arrives late in 2020

Chart segments U.S. seaborne imports linked to Penguin Random House by month.    Source: Panjiva

The book industry more broadly has seen a wider slowdown in activity during the pandemic, perhaps indicating the increased use of e-books shown previously by Scholastic and discussed in Panjiva’s research of Sept. 29. There are signs of a turnaround however, partly driven by Penguin Random House’s recovery.

Total U.S. seaborne imports of books increased by 5.8% year over year in October after a 15.3% drop in Q3’20 and a 26.5% decline in Q2’20. Aside from Penguin Random House, owned by Bertelsmann, there was also a recovery to a 0.4% improvement in October from a 31.1% drop in Q3 in shipments linked to News Corp’s HarperCollins. Scholastic has also entered a modest recovery with an improvement of 2.8% in October from 4.9%, suggesting that the recovery includes children’s books.

Penguin flies, Scholastic slips

Chart segments U.S. seaborne imports of books by consignee on a monthly and three-month average basis.    Source: Panjiva

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