As BookExpo Approaches, US Publishers Cite Revenue Up In First Quarter of the Year

In News by Porter Anderson

Once more, downloaded audiobooks are the format leader, up 32.1 percent in the first quarter of 2018, according to the Association of American Publishers’ StatShot report.

A ceiling detail of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, site of BookExpo. Image – iStockphoto: WGC Photography

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

Revenue From Print Up 6.3 Percent

On the approach to BookExpo, which opens Wednesday (May 30) in New York City, the Association of American Publishers has released an upbeat StatShot report showing a 6.2-percent bump in the first quarter of 2018, year over year.

As the association points out, these numbers “include sales for all tracked categories (trade fiction, non-fiction, religious, preK-12, instructional materials, higher education course materials, professional publishing, and university presses).”

Trade titles, the report tells us, increased by $94.7 million (up 6.3 percent) to $1.59 billion in the first quarter—with growth in adult books, children and YA, as well as religious presses reporting.

As for talking points, four trends are put forward by the publishers association. Quoting the association’s messaging:

  • “Publishers saw revenue gains in adult books, professional books, and university presses, continuing trends from 2017.
  • “Adult books saw double-digit growth in January (up 13 percent) and February (up 12.4 percent).
  • “While ebook revenue decreased for the quarter, March saw 1.5-percent growth for the format.
  • “Downloaded audiobooks continue their rapid growth, with publisher revenue up 32.1 percent for the first quarter.”

Image: Association of American Publishers

The US market is always under particular scrutiny during the late-spring week of BookExpo, of course, and this year many publishers will be watching to see if the trade show’s new “reimagined” concentration on the cultivation of booksellers has a demonstrably beneficial effect.

With foreign rights trading essentially removed from BookExpo by the competitive New York Rights Fairas Publishing Perspectives has covered here—the Jacob Javits Center is an even more Ameri-centric hub of activity than in the past. BookExpo has named the New York Rights Fair its official rights center, a development that many hope will mean the rights event can be held at the Javits next year with BookExpo, instead of two miles away at the Metropolitan Pavilion.

Nevertheless, as long as much of the trade show’s emphasis revolves around the publisher-bookseller relationship, the publishers association’s upbeat announcement about the US industry’s Q1 performance will of course be welcome.

Ebooks Show Mixed Performance

It’s important to remember, too, that StatShot reports are subject to change over time, as revisions arrive later in the year. As the association’s material reminds us, “Publisher net revenue is tracked monthly by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and includes revenue from about 1,100 publishers, with participation subject to change over time. AAP also tracks revenue annually with AAP’s StatShot Annual Report, which includes reporting from additional publishers and data about unit sales and channels.”

Several charts from the first-quarter report are of interest. For example, the downloaded audiobook sector—a darling of the industry thanks to years of strong growth—continued to outperform other formats, up a remarkable 32.1 percent in the first quarter of this year over the same period last year. And physical audio was down 3.6 percent over the same period last year. The story of audiobooks’ robust health lies, after all, in the development of digital delivery—witness those “binge better” commercials that Amazon’s Audible is airing.

Ebooks, down 3.2 percent for the quarter, were up, in the adult divisions, in the month of March, by 1.5 percent.

Print “generally continued growth from 2017,” the association reports. “Revenue from print books totaled $1.14 billion, up about $67.7 million (6.3 percent), from the first quarter of 2017. The increase is attributed to growth in trade’s two largest formats, hardback books (up 12.0 percent) and paperback books (up 3.2 percent).

Image: Association of American Publishers

And in education, professional, and scholarly publishing, the association reports that “Trends from 2017 continued through the first quarter of 2018, with revenue growth in professional books (business, medical, law, scientific and technical books), university presses, and higher education course materials. PreK-12 instructional materials was the only tracked category that saw a decline in the first quarter.”

Image: Association of American Publishers

As Publishing Perspectives has reported here and here, the Association of American Publishers is sponsoring three key panel sessions during BookExpo this week, a “leadership roundtable” with Big Five CEOs, a session focused on copyright policy and publishing, and one on publishing and the film industry.

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.