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Trade Book Sales Down 1.4% in First Half of 2015, AAP Reports

aap logoThe Association of American Publishers just released a few dribblets of information on the US book industry. The publicly available stats are incomplete, but the news is not good for the legacy publishing industry.

Revenues for the 1,200 publishers providing monthly data to the AAP dropped 4.1% in the first six months in 2015 ($5.58 billion, vs $5.82 billion). That figure includes revenues for all categories tracked by the AAP (trade plus higher-ed, uni presses, K-12, etc).

Revenues from trade book sales were down 1.4% in the first half of the year ($3.09 billion vs $3.13 billion). Two of three trade categories were down, with kids/YA showing the steepest decline at 12.3% ($677.1 million vs $772.3 million). The adult category was up 3.1% ($2.17 billion vs $2.1 billion), while religious presses were down 5.1% ($244.5 million vs $257.8 million).

eBook revenues were down 10.4% in the first half of the year. Downloadable audiobooks were up 31%, while paperbacks were up 12.5%. Hardback books were also down (11%).

The AAP wasn’t specific as to the dollar amounts, but they did share this handy chart:

aap 2015 june january 2011

Edit: I asked and got the specific figures used in this chart. The following figures reflect the first 6 months revenues of each calendar year (hardback, paperback, ebook, All Other, and total trade).

  • 2011: $941.8M, $1,291.4M, $523.0M, $155.3M, $2,911.6M
  • 2012: $1,072.2M, $1,241.7M, $813.8M, $191.9M, $3,319.7M
  • 2013: $1,022.0M, $1,093.6M, $752.5M, $205.8M, $3,073.8M
  • 2014: $1,109.6M, $1,005.9M, $813.2M, $205.9M, $3,134.7M
  • 2015: $987.2M, $1,101.1M, $729.7M, $273.4M, $3,091.4M

That chart is frustratingly nonspecific, but it offers a different perspective on the recent NYTimes story. Far from showing that ebooks have peaked and print making a resurgence, it shows that the revenues are in flux.

The hardback segment is up and down (more the latter than the former), the paperback segment is down from a peak (but might be making a comeback), and ebook revenues for the 1,200 publishers that submit monthly data to the AAP are both up and down.

The above chart shows why you should not draw a conclusion based on a single statistic (the NYTimes' first mistake). If you pick the wrong year, you could argue that your preferred format is up, only to have that format decline the following year.

With the market in flux (as it has been for the past four years), it’s hard to draw any conclusions at all.

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fjtorres October 8, 2015 um 12:55 pm

Paperback isn’t growing.
Remember, they are combining massmarket and trade paperback instead of reporting them separately as they used to. And by reporting total dollars they can hide the fact that they are publishing (and selling) a lot less mmpbk and forcing their customers to the more expensive formats.
If you could get a breakdown of the two formats what you would see isn’t an industry in flux but the BPHs transitioning away from mass market paperbacks, especially paperback originals.

The "growth" in print is coming from selling more expensive books to less people, not from selling more books.

Syn October 8, 2015 um 2:23 pm

It seems like the publishers fears of lower prices devaluing books is true. But I think that in my case, Agency pricing actually hurt them. When Amazon first did the 9.99 on best sellers deals for kindle, I thought that was super cheap. After that ended, I went to indie authors where I’ve bought from free to 5.99.

I think everyone has one or two authors they have to read under the big five but I supplement my other reading with Indies and look over the big five when its not my favorite author. Now, even that 9.99 price tag makes me stop and pause.

Thomas October 8, 2015 um 3:05 pm

It always comes back to price so quickly…I would say really that at the end of the day this has more to do with other media than price. You can’t really price (physical) books that much cheaper. And when consumers still happily pay 9.99 for books then your personal anecdotes have nowhere to sit I’m afraid.

Yes these are good stats, clearly all is in flux. Interesting if true about combining paperback reporting…

Audiobooks though! People trying to squeeze in reading time on their 2 hour commute. This is the life we chose…

Syn October 8, 2015 um 3:17 pm

@Thomas I was actually referring to Ebooks. ftorres brought up some good points about the physical book market being even lower then they may be letting on.

And the migration over to ebooks was about convenience, (carrying 100’s or thousands of books with you on a small device), Price, (Why pay 15 for a book when I can buy 5 to 15 books for that same price. Space, (Dusty old books no longer taking up precious space in your home.)

You are right its not about price for everyone. Like I said above. Everyone has their favorite author they are willing to pay for. However, all authors, are not so privileged to fit into this category just because their with the big five.

Thomas October 8, 2015 um 6:16 pm

Well to be fair only the big name, popular authors are priced at very high prices.

William Ockham October 9, 2015 um 7:58 pm

Here is a fun experiment. Go find the annual U.S. sales figures for ’50 Shades' in the various formats. Subtract those out of the totals. Replot the graph. Discuss.

Nate Hoffelder October 9, 2015 um 8:03 pm


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