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AAP Reports Publisher eBook Revenues Down 11%

aap logoThe AAP released its monthly Statshot report on Wednesday, and reported that the collected revenues of the 1,200 odd publishers in the survey group had declined 2% in the first nine months of 2015.

The adult category was up, while both religious presses and YA/kids categories were down. In terms of formats, audiobooks continued to grow at a double digit rate, and paperbacks showed a surprising resurgence while both hardback and ebook revenues declined (6.4% and 11.1%, respectively).

The AAP reports that the total trade revenues remained flat at $5 billion, which means that the fluctuations reflect a shift, and not a growth or decline.


image by oatsy40

Here’s the press release:

Publishers’ book sales for the first three quarters of the year (Jan. –  Sept. 2015) were down 2.0% at $11.9 billion compared to $12.1 billion for the first nine months in 2014. These numbers include sales for all tracked categories (Trade – fiction/non-fiction/religious, K-12 Instructional Materials, Higher Education Course Materials, Professional Publishing, and University Presses). Revenue for trade books was flat. Publishers net revenue is tracked monthly by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and includes sales data from more than 1,200 publishers (#AAPStats).

Some of the trends noted during the three quarters of 2015:

  • While sales for trade books overall were flat, the categories within had different growth trajectories from Jan. – Sept.:  Adult Books were up 2.9%, Children/YA were down 7.4%, and Religious Presses were down 1.5%.
  • Paperbacks and downloaded audiobooks within the trade category grew in double digits.
  • Sales declined for Higher Educational Course Materials and PreK-12 Instructional Materials.


Year-to-date, Trade Book revenues were flat at $5.0 billion.

  • Adult Books: The largest of the categories grew to $3.5 billion through Sept. 2015 compared to 3.4 billion in the same timeframe in 2014. Within that, paperback books (16.0%) and downloaded audio (41.5%) were the formats with the greatest growth. This category has shown growth every month in 2015, with the exception of Feb.
  • Children/YA: Revenue within the category declined to $1.1 billion through Sept. 2015 from $1.2 billion for the same timeframe in 2014.  eBooks (44.8%) and hardback books (14.5%) led the overall 7.4% decline in the category.  We’re still seeing the impact of tough competition against 2014 blockbuster titles, including the Divergent series.
  • Religious Presses were down 1.5%, with $390.1 million in revenue to date in 2015 compared to $395.9 million in 2014.

“Adult books are leading the way so far this year for growth in the trade category. This is a stark contrast to the tremendous growth last year in Children and Young Adult books,” said Tina Jordan, Vice President at the Association of American Publishers.

Total Trade Net Revenue by Category (in millions)*

Jan. –  Sept. 2015 Jan. –  Sept. 2014 Percent Change
Adult Fiction/Non-Fiction $3,478.7 $3,380.4 2.9%
Children/YA $1,136.7 $1,227.7 -7.4%
Religious Presses $390.1 $395.9 -1.5%
Total Trade $5,005.5 $5,004.1 0.0%

Trade Formats:

  • Downloaded audio remained the fastest-growing format, with 37.7% growth compared to the same period in 2014.
  • eBooks were down 11.1%, with most of the decline coming from Children/YA books (44.8%).
  • Paperbacks continued their good performance this year with 13.3% growth.
  • Hardback books were down 6.4%.

The chart below depicts publisher revenue for different Trade formats from Jan. – Sept. from 2011 to 2015.

chart 1

The chart below depicts the growth in net sales from Downloaded Audio from Jan. – Sept. in each year. The format doubled in popularity from 2012 to 2015.

chart 2

Educational Materials:

Revenues for PreK-12 instructional materials were down by 5.0% in the first three quarters of the year. Higher Education course materials were down 4.4%.


Professional and Scholarly Publishing:

Sales for Professional Publishing, which includes business, medical, law, scientific and technical books and journals, are up 13.0% through Sept. 2015 compared to the same timeframe in 2014.  University Presses declined slightly at 1.8%.


* NOTE: Figures represent publishers’ net revenue for the U.S. (i.e. what publishers sell to bookstores, direct to consumer, online venues, etc.), and are not retailer/consumer sales figures.

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fjtorres January 27, 2016 um 11:29 am

Ah, sales reports are a funny thing.
Usually the interesting stuff is what they leave out.
Consider: the typical trade paperback sells for $12-15 while the typical mass market paperback runs $9 these days. Publishers have been shifting their low end pbook releases from mass market to trade paperback for years now, reserving the cheaper format for rereleases of bestsellers, effectively returning the format to its roots.
Now, in shifting new releases to trade, they are raising prices by 30% and seeing revenue growth of maybe half that.
That pretty much indicates both big declines in mass market and, more critical in the long term, unit sales.

Not really as rosy as they spin it, is it?
Also of note, hardcovers revenue declined in Sept, the first month the randy penguin raised their ebook prices.

And all the reported numbers are gross sales.
Reducing the sales of their higher margin ebooks to favor the lower margin print formats isn’t resulting in significantly higher grosses to offset the margin declines according to these reports. So, unless they are moving tons of pbooks at deep-discount terms, their bottom line is going to show a big drop in net in dollar terms.

(Of course, since the bad boys report in euros, the drop in the euro last year will probably let them report gains on paper.)

Liz January 27, 2016 um 1:57 pm

As long as they keep e-book prices higher than paperback books, they will keep losing money. Most people are not going to buy an e-book for $14.95 when the paperback is $10. Publishers will never convince people to pay more for an e-book than they would for a paper one. Something they really seem to be in denial about.

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