US Publishers Association Statistics: Overall 4.9% Rise in First Quarter

In News by Porter Anderson

The Association of American Publishers’ StatShot program cites preliminary indications that its 1,202 publishers saw $2.33 billion in revenue in January, February, and March.

Image – iStockphoto: Man Feiyang

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Hardbacks, Audio Are Rising Formats

In its first-quarter report, issued on August 1, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) cites a 4.9-percent rise in US book publishers’ revenue in January, February and March, as compared to the first quarter of last year.

That increase brings the total dollar amount to $2.33 billion for the 1,202 publishers reporting into the association’s “StatShot” tracking program and includes a dollar increase of $108 million over Q1 2016.

The big winner, once again, appears to be the audiobook segment, with a 28.8-percent jump in revenue from downloaded audio products. A spokesperson for the AAP points out to Publishing Perspectives that this is the third year in which the sector has registered double-digit growth in StatShot’s reports.

Nevertheless, all digital products weren’t moving upward. The AAP cites a 5.3-percent decline in revenue from ebooks in the same period. In hardback print, publishers saw an 8.2-percent growth in the first quarter of this year as compared to the first quarter of last year.

The association is attributing most of the Q1 growth to “increased revenue in two of the largest categories, adult books and higher-education course materials.”

“The reason the quarterly trade number isn’t higher,” says AAP communications director Marisa Bluestone, “are declines in Children’s and YA revenue in January (-6.7 percent) and February (-18.7 percent).

“Religious presses were down too,” Bluestone says, by 7.4 percent,”but they’re a smaller category and don’t have as much impact.”

She also tells us, “Sales of adult hardback books were up 18.1 percent for Q1” this year vs. last.

“Their biggest month,” Bluestone says, “was March, when sales increased 37.5 percent over March 2016.

“The other print formats for the quarter in adult books were down slightly, as were ebooks,” Bluestone says.

In educational and scholarly publishing, “publishers saw some increased revenues during the first quarter of 2017,” the association’s prepared statement reports, “compared to the first quarter of 2016.”

While StatShot doesn’t get into the granularity of specific genre reporting, Bluestone confirms that she sees children’s and YA hardback and board books up in the quarter over last year, while paperbacks are responsible for most of the declines, down 14.2 percent, along with ebooks–a smaller group in children’s books, of course–down 16.3 percent.

In higher education curriculum materials, “Revenues were up,” says the press statement,  “by $92 million (24.3 percent) to $470.2 million in the first quarter of 2017,” the association reports, “compared to the first quarter in 2016.

“Revenues for professional publishing–which includes business, medical, law, scientific and technical books–were up by $5 million (4.5 percent) to $119.5 million.,” the statement reads.

“Revenues for pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade instructional materials sagged a bit by 0.7 percent, year over year,” the association reports, “from $242.7 million to $241.0 million. And university press revenues were down by $309,000 (2.4 percent) in Q1 from levels a year earlier.”

Graphic: Association of American Publishers

Reporting the News: “Up,” “Flat,” and “Leaping”

It’s always interesting to look at how this kind of material is reported, of course.

The write-up by Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly is headlined, “Adult Trade, College Material Sales Up in Q1.”

Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch headlines his write, “Revised AAP Stats Show Trade Just above Flat in First Quarter.”

And the most upbeat interpretation comes from Katherine Cowdrey at The Bookseller in London, whose story is headlined, “US Publishers’ Revenues Leap 4.9 Percent in First Quarter.”

Milliot opens his article, “Sales of adult trade books rose 3.4 percent in the first quarter of 2017, over the comparable period in 2016,” while Cader writes that the new report “shows a market that was pretty darn flat in the first quarter of the year. And that aligns with Nielsen Bookscan data that showed tracked print book sales at retail flat in the first quarter as well.”

More on the audiobook sector’s outstanding performance is in our story from June on the Audio Publishers Association’s latest survey data.

Cader reminds his readers that current-year statistics from the association “are preliminary, and are subject to revision a year later–and often those revisions are substantial. Case in point, this time a year ago, everything was calibrated about $100 million lower: Gross shipments were put at $1.747 billion for Q1 2016, and net sales were estimated at $1.261.5 billion, so the historical view of that quarter changed a lot in the final data set (e.g. net sales were about 8.5 percent higher than originally reported, which is a meaningful adjustment).”

All of these figures represent publishers’ net revenue from all distribution channels, and not retailer or consumer sales figures.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.