Nigel Newton: More Than Potter

3 mins. to read
Nigel Newton: More Than Potter

Nigel Newton likes reading. He likes reading a lot which is a good thing as he is the founder and chief executive of Bloomsbury Publishing which he founded in the 1980’s and listed in 1994.

There’s been many words read and written since then and plenty of anecdotes.

There was the time that Nigel was in his bedroom, reading of course, and his daughter’s then boyfriend came in to ask for her hand in marriage. He did so when sat on what Newton said was a pile of freshly laundered pants. Whether that was American pants as in trousers, or underpants is a mere detail and permission to marry was granted.

Newton’s love of anecdote is legendary and while the son-in-law’s proposal has gone down in family folklore, this chief executive doesn’t share any ‘dirty laundry’ details about his stable of authors. Partly because there isn’t much and secondly this raconteur is very discrete and protective of his stable of authors, his staff and his shareholders.

The share price has risen some 160% over the past five years and maintained its resilience post the pandemic when most of the world it seemed was also reading, listening, watching and becoming more familiar with and reliant on a digitised world. Digitisation is something this article will return to soon.

Bloomsbury Publishing is well known for giving JK Rowling her break with the Harry Potter series. It is also home to #1 New York Times best seller Sarah J Maas, Samantha Shannon, UK chef Tom Kerridge and national treasure Sheila Hancock. Go onto the company website and there are 1469 entries under the Authors section. That’s a lot of reading.

What Newton wrestles with is whether the market has factored in the other side of the business. Yes, the buying public and investors know the consumer facing side of the business very well, but the company is multifaceted. It has substantial academic digital resources with its Bloomsbury Digital Resources division and there’s the subscription based academic streaming content in the Bloomsbury Video Library which launched in December 2022. It has already curated more than 2000 films and been described as the ‘Netflix’ of the arts, humanities and social sciences world. 

While Netflix made $31.6 billion revenue in 2022, and it’s hardly comparing like for like just yet, Bloomsbury’s group revenue for 2022 at the last trading update is now expected to be over £260 million. Remember its online streaming service only came online three months ago.

In addition to increasing its stable of authors and B2B digital offerings, the company is recruiting staff. A nice round 100 which represents 10% of the company’s total workforce.

This might take some time because the company’s acquisition strategy is known as methodical and unrushed. Investors had been critical of the time it took Bloomsbury to spend the cash that had inflated its Royal Bank of Scotland account post-Potter success, and Newton’s preference when hiring is that references are done over the telephone. Where recruitment is concerned reading references is supplemented by the audible.

In addition to thinking a lot about company re-rating, his main anguish is the future of the English language. Prior to artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT debuting on the literary scene, Newton had long been in conversation with world authorities who share his concerns about the preservation of the English language in its purest form and how it is best maintained – not preserved as a historical relic, but upheld as something that is vibrant, relevant, alive and continues to be worth reading.

Nigel Newton will be talking about the future of the creative economy and Bloomsbury’s growth plans with Sarah Lowther at The Master Investor Show on Saturday April 15th.

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