July 11, 2016 Last Updated 4:09 pm

AAP StatShot Annual survey shows 2015 US book sales as essentially flat

Trade association representing major book publishers shows that the book industry did not see the same kinds of sales declines that the newspaper and magazine industry experienced

As readers of TNM know, I generally have problems with data sets released by trade associations on the principle that they represent only a subset of an industry, members of the association. This is especially true with book sales as the book industry in the midst of serious change, where players such as Amazon are dominating eBook sales at a time when the group representing major publishers is saying the eBook sales are slowing or declining.

But that doesn’t mean the data is bad. In fact, this report, which covers the full year 2015, is chock-full of interesting data.

The executive summary is that the Association of American Publishers (AAP) StatShot Annual survey shows that 2015 was essentially flat for US book and journal publishing industry (again, that portion represented by the AAP). That is certainly not bad news. In fact, looking at print publishing, in general, I would say that 2015 was a pretty good year.

Adult book sales were strong, in both fiction and nonfiction. But children and young adult book sales fell.

As for eBooks, the main area of concern for TNM, that remains an area where the major book publishers are seeing declines. As you can see below in the last chart, the percentage of sales coming from eBooks has fallen in the past several years, leading some media observers to lazily conclude that eBook sales are falling overall. I, and many others, don’t think that is true for the industry overall, just that part of the industry represented by the major print book publishers. The problem, of course, is the lack of transparency from Amazon, which one knows has been growing their eBook business.

Here is the full press release from the AAP for their 2015 StatShot Annual survey:

WASHINGTON, DC – July 11, 2016 — The U.S. book and journal publishing industry generated $27.78 billion in net revenue for 2015, representing 2.71 billion in units (volume), according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP) StatShot Annual survey. Revenues and unit volume were essentially flat with a decrease of 0.6% from $27.96 billion in revenue from 2014, and a 0.5% increase in units from 2.70 billion units in 2014 (chart below).

StatShot Annual is a yearly statistical survey of publishing’s estimated size and scope. The data include sales and volume for all tracked categories, including trade (fiction/non-fiction/religious), K-12 instructional materials, higher education course materials, university presses and professional books.

Trade books grew slightly in both revenue and volume in 2015 (chart below). The industry’s relative revenue decline was largely due to a challenging year in the education markets, which comprise about one-third of tracked revenues.

2015 Overview: Net Revenue and Unit Growth


Trade Category: Net Revenue and Unit Growth


Adult Books Grow, Childrens/YA Books Decline

The area of largest growth for the trade category was Adult Books, which grew by 6.0% from $9.87 billion in 2014 to $10.47 billion in revenue in 2015. For the second consecutive year, Adult non-fiction books, which includes adult coloring books, was the category that sold the most units and provided the most revenue in the trade category. Within the Adult Books category, the fastest growing formats in terms of units sold were downloaded audio (up 45.9%), hardback (up 15.1%) and paperback (up 9.1%).

“StatShot Annual 2015 has confirmed print’s marked return. The paper book, just like the eBook, is here to stay,” said Tina Jordan, Vice President, Association of American Publishers. “While young adult titles were very popular last year, in 2015 adult books led the charge with successes like The Girl on the Train and Go Set a Watchman. Those, and adult coloring books like The Secret Garden, helped the Adult Books category grow by nearly $90 million in revenue.”

Childrens/Young Adult Books declined slightly in revenue, from $4.42 billion in 2014 to $4.27 billion in 2015. The fastest growing category in terms of units sold were board books (up 14.0%). Some formats saw increases: downloaded audio was up 1.2% and hardback was up 1.0%. Childrens/Young Adult eBooks saw a 35.0% decline in units sold in 2015 vs. 2014.

Trade Formats: Downloaded Audio Grew Significantly, eBooks Declined

Downloaded audio: Revenue for downloaded audio has nearly doubled since 2012, growing from $299 million to $552 million in 2015. From 2014 to 2015, the growth was substantial: 37.6% in revenue and 41.1% in units.

eBooks: After peaking in 2013 at $3.24 billion, eBook revenue declined to $3.20 billion in 2014 and again in 2015 by 11.3% to $2.84 billion. Unit sales also declined by 9.7%, with eBooks now making up 17.3% of the trade book market.

Paperback books: Paperbacks remain the most popular format in terms of units sold, comprising 40.6% of the market. Mass market adds another 7.3%. Revenue was up for paperbacks in 2015 to $5.23 billion from $5.09 billion in 2014.

Hardback books: Underscoring the return to print, hardback books saw growth in both revenue and units over 2014. Revenue was up 8.3% from $4.98 billion in 2014 to $5.40 billion in 2015.

Number of units sold by format

  • Paperback & Mass Market: 1.18 billion
  • Hardback: 577 million
  • eBook: 424 million
  • Children’s Board Books: 89 million
  • Physical Audio & Downloaded Audio: 81 million
  • Other: 107 million

Trade Book Market Share by Format:


Physical Store Sales Up, but Online Still Top Sales Channel

Online retail remained the top sales channel for publishers’ revenue in the trade category, with 37.4% of the market. About 806 million units were sold online in 2015.

Publishers saw increased revenue from trade book sales at physical retail stores for the second year in a row. In 2015, physical store sales grew 1.8% from $4.08 billion to $4.15 billion. More than 610 million trade book units were sold in 2015. Physical store sales comprise about 26.2% of publisher revenue.

These sales channel numbers reflect how publishers get books into the marketplace, not retailers’ revenue from consumers. While StatShot channel sales data can provide directional information about trends, the data is limited for trade books, as much of the business occurs through wholesale and distribution.

About StatShot Annual

Produced by AAP, StatShot Annual estimates the total size of the U.S. publishing industry by collecting sales data in dollars and units from nearly 1,800 active U.S. publishers. Data is collected directly from publishers, with the help of distributors. Estimates are used for publishers who do not participate directly, based on their company financial reports, government filings, BooksinPrint, press releases, third party research services, and other third party sources.

Note: All figures represent publishers’ net revenue from all distribution channels (these are not retailer/consumer sales figures). StatShot Annual captures publishers’ aggregated net revenue from the formats we are able to measure across the different categories.

The StatShot Annual Executive Report with all corresponding data will be available later this summer. To place an advance order for the report, please contact Tina Jordan at tjordan@publishers.org.

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