NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The release on Tuesday of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, widely billed as an historic literary event, is making a splash among book lovers enamored with the prospect of a sequel to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's first and only book since To Kill a Mockingbird. The enthusiasm, however, has yet to carry over to the publisher's investors.
News Corp (NWSA) - Get Report, which owns HarperCollins Publishers along with the Wall Street Journal and other publications, was little changed at $14.43 following the highly anticipated midnight release of Go Set a Watchman. Shares of New York-based News Corp have lost 8.3% in 2015, compared with a 2.4% gain for the S&P 500.
Analysts and media experts say they expect strong sales from Watchman, which was written in the 1950s and features many of To Kill a Mockingbird's characters 20 years later. HarperCollins has printed 2 million copies in its initial print-run.
If Go Set a Watchman generates sales that mirror its legendary predecessor -- more than 40 million copies since it was published in 1960 -- News Corp can certainly expect a steady revenue stream from the publication to bolster profits for decades.
But for a media company the size of News Corp -- which has about $8 billion in annual revenue and gets the lion's share of its revenue from news and information sources such as the Wall Street Journal and digital real estate products such as Realtor.com -- the book debut is unlikely to have a big impact on the parent company's stock.
"It's really hard for me to believe that one book could make that much difference in the stock price," said Mike Shatzkin, founder and CEO of the Idea Logical Co., a book-publishing consultant who said he expects substantial -- and perhaps sustained -- sales from Lee's new book. "In the context of a publishing company that does a couple thousand titles a year, there's a lot of moving parts and (Go Set a Watchman) is only one of them."
About $402 million, or about 21%, of News Corp's $2.06 billion in revenue for the quarter ended March 31 is derived from book publishing, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. News Corp.'s news segment generated $1.35 billion in revenue in the quarter, and digital real estate accounted for $170 million. Combined, the two segments comprised 66% of revenue.
News Corp shares have declined about 21% during the past year. But much of the decline is due to struggles in the company's news and information segment, whose revenue fell 9% to $1.35 billion in the fiscal third quarter. Book-publishing revenue increased 14% during the quarter to about $402 million.
"In general, book publishing has had a very good past few years ... certainly compared to the magazine business, the newspaper business and the music business," Shatzkin said. "The digital transition for book publishers has not been nearly as painful."
Go Set a Watchman, which Lee had written before writing To Kill a Mockingbird, was originally thought to have been lost but was found during a 2011 review of her assets. Its publication has stirred controversy regarding whether Lee had full control over the decision as she had previously said To Kill a Mockingbird would be her only book.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stock mentioned.