Spoof humour books failed to raise a smile over Christmas as falling sales took their toll on trading at WH Smith.
The trend for titles such as Five on Brexit Island and adult Ladybird parodies helped boost revenues at the retailer a year ago but now appears to have run its course.
WH Smith said like-for-like sales in its high street stores fell 4% in the 20 weeks to 20 January.
Chief executive Stephen Clarke said the decline was in line with expectations, and that stationery, Christmas cards, and wrapping paper had done well.
But he added: “Book sales were more challenging due to the decline in spoof humour titles and no new, big publishing trends.”
Image: Ladybird spoof books were part of the trend
It follows a boost to trading last year from the success of gentle parodies of Enid Blyton’s books, after the previous successful revival of Ladybird books in humorous adult formats.
That came after a previous publishing trend had seen a craze for grown-up colouring books.
WH Smith’s latest trading update revealed that like-for-like sales in its travel division – operating at airports, railways and motorway service stations – rose 3%.
Across the group, like-for-like sales were down 1%, compared to what Mr Clarke described as a “very successful period last year”.
Image: WH Smith reported a sales decline
WH Smith is expanding its travel business, including overseas outlets in hubs such as Singapore’s Changi Airport, while seeking to cut costs across UK high street stores.
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Management at the group tend to sound a relaxed note about sales declines, focusing instead on efficiency savings and profit margins.
Mr Clarke said: “Looking ahead while there is some uncertainty in the broader economic environment, we remain confident that the group is well positioned for the year ahead as we continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in new opportunities.”