The Scholium Group, corporate parent of Shapero Rare Books, released its interim financial report for the six months ending September 30, 2018. While holding several divisions, Shapero Rare Books is the largest part of their business. As the only publicly traded rare and antiquarian book specialist, their results can provide a window on the market.
The report showed Scholium had a loss of £56,000 for the six months, compared to a profit of £61,000 the prior year. Revenue was down slightly, but gross margin was up by 4%. However, as is often the case with corporate statements, this isn't a very accurate yearly comparison. A couple of factors intervened to make this something other than an apples-to-apples comparison.
During the past year, Scholium added a new division, Mayfair Philatelics. As with most startup businesses, it incurred a loss, while adding to overall revenue. Expenses rose year over year by £242,000, but of this amount, £220,000 was attributable to the new stamp business. In all, Mayfair Philatelics lost £104,000. If this is removed, the year-to-year comparison would have been a profit of £48,000 compared to prior year profits of £61,000. In addition, a minor change in the timing of accounting for revenue reduced income by another £14,000, meaning income, on a fair comparison basis, was virtually the same as the prior year.
Overall sales decreased slightly despite the addition of sales, albeit unprofitable ones, from Mayfair Philatelics. This reflects a decrease in sales of £241,000 by Shapero Rare Books. This again is a misleading number. Regular sales were actually up at Shapero. The difference is that last year they made an en bloc sale of a 50% interest in their Russian inventory to a former employee. This generated a larger amount of sales, but no income as the material was sold to the former employee at cost. The result is that while Shapero's sales technically decreased, its gross profit margin also, technically, increased by the removal of a large volume of profitless sales. Overall, Shapero Rare Books, and the smaller Shapero Modern, registered an increase in profits of about £20,000.
In describing its strategy, Scholium noted a plan common to many private booksellers, "diversification of revenue streams." In Scholium's case, that is represented by the Mayfair collectible stamp business. They have been selling more items at auction as well, and attempting to sell on behalf of others, rather than holding everything in inventory. These steps can reduce cash needs and inventory holdings while speeding turnover. Scholium noted that the firm is "focused on reducing its inventory as part of the process of rebalancing its business towards consignments from third parties for either retail or auction sales." They further noted that "increasing the number of consignments, as compared with purchasing stock," is part of then plan for "both its books and philatelic businesses."
The firm did point out that it expects costs to increase over the next six months. The Mayfair business, which held one auction in the past six months, has three scheduled for the coming six months. Both Mayfair and Shapero have more fairs and catalogues scheduled for the coming period, which will add to marketing expenditures. On the other side, that increased activity is anticipated to add to revenues as well.
Speaking of the half-year results, Scholium Group's Chairman, Jasper Allen, stated, "It has been pleasing that the group's main trading subsidiary, Shapero Rare Books, and Scholium Trading continue to trade profitably in this first six months to 30 September 2018." Plans for the future include maintaining the momentum at Shapero Rare Books and increasing revenues in the stamp business, while reducing the level of stock.