January 27, 2016 Last Updated 4:28 pm

AAP report: book sales down 2% in first 9 months of 2015; eBook sales down 11%

New sales volume report suggests that major publishers continue to lose eBook share following effort to raise prices, further ceding the market to Amazon and self-publishers

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) today released sales figures of US books sales for the first nine months of 2015, reporting a 2 percent decline in sales volume. It also reported that eBook sales continue to decline, 11 percent, a trend that has gotten a tremendous amount of attention in the media each time the AAP reports its numbers.

AAP logoIt is important to understand that the AAP represents a certain group of book publishers, certainly the leading book publishers in the States. But it does not represent the entire industry. The publishers it represents are those who have most likely recently raised eBook prices and who last year battled Amazon over new distribution contracts.

Because of this, many doubt that eBooks sales are actually falling overall. The problem is that to absolutely prove this it would be nice to see real numbers from Amazon, the biggest seller of eBooks out there.

But before explaining why one can’t simply conclude that eBook sales are falling overall by reading the press release below, it is important to point out that the AAP should be applauded for its sales reports. Other trade associations such as those representing consumer and trade magazine publishers have spent the past couple of years trying hard to make the media turn away from its former reports, either stopping them altogether, or else coming up with new reports that look at completely other areas.

That said, now that more and more books are published without ISBN numbers (TNM has some of these left over that we will never use), it is harder to track sales of eBooks published by either small publishers or self-publishers. As the share of books published by the big five publishers continues to fall, it will only become that much harder to track these things.

Amazon reports its earnings tomorrow, so maybe (maybe) they will have something to add to this discussion. In the meantime, here is the press release from the AAP:

Washington, DC – January 27, 2016 –  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.


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.


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.


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.

Feature Photo (home page): Bookman’s Corner by Viewfinder used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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