AAP Issues Its Annual 2018 StatShot Look at the US Publishing Industry

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Describing a gradual decline in revenue for the US book business, the AAP’s StatShot annual report estimates that the industry made $25.82 billion in 2018.

Image – iStockphoto: VT Mila

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

Second Year: Online Retail Surpassed Physical
In its StatShot Annual Report for Calendar Year 2018—issued late on Friday (June 21)—the Association of American Publishers is estimating US$25.82 billion in revenue made by the US book publishing book industry, representing a total 2.71 billion units.

From the five-year view offered by the report, revenue for the American book publishing industry is seen contracting again slightly for a fifth year, in what appears to be a gentle, downward glide-path.

All figures represent publishers’ net revenue from tracked categories in all formats, from all distribution channels (and more about methodology is below). Those categories are:

  • Trade
  • Higher education course materials
  • PreK-12 instructional materials
  • Professional books
  • University presses

These are not retailer/consumer sales figures, the AAP reminds us in its media messaging. And for a look at the nearer term, our report on the AAP’s Q1 StatShot report for this year is here.

The 23-page report goes to all participating publishers and distributors and is available for purchase from the association by others. Those interested in purchasing a copy are asked to contact Syreeta Swann at swannn@publishers.org.

Following the basic figures, we’ll convey some of the high points the association is flagging for journalists.

But we’ll mention one now in particular, which we think reinforces a growing understanding that while much about the digital transition in publishing has been accepted by many in the industry, the impact of digital dynamic on sales may be only starting to reveal its force.

“For a second year,” the AAP’s material tells us, “publisher sales to online retail channels exceeded sales to physical retail channels with sales to online retail at $8.03 billion and sales to physical retail at $6.90 billion.”

Another point of interest has to do with downloaded audio, the golden-haired element of almost any recent report on book publishing’s figures in the States. While downloaded audio remained easily the fastest-growing segment, it represented only 13.7 percent of online retail channels’ reported book content sales.

US Publisher Revenue in Billions 2014 to 2018

In terms of what the new annual report reveals, the United States’ publishing revenue for trade books (fiction, nonfiction, and religious presses) increased slightly (1.5 percent) to $16.19 billion in 2018.

Since 2014, publisher revenue for trade books, the industry’s largest category, has increased by about $760 million.

In 2018, for example, the total revenue registered in this StatShot report was $25.82 billion, down from 2017’s figure of $26.23 billion. But even when viewed across five years from 2014 ($27.96 billion), the drop, while steeper, is not precipitous.

Trade Higher Education PreK-12 Professional University Presses Other Total
2014 $15.43 $4.85 $4.27 $3.09 $0.30 $0.01 $27.96
2015 $15.82 $4.53 $4.11 $3.05 $0.29 $0.01 $27.80
2016 $15.90 $3.96 $3.73 $2.37 $0.28 $0.04 $26.27
2017 $15.95 $3.98 $3.62 $2.35 $0.29 $0.04 $26.23
2018 $16.19 $3.69 $3.46 $2.15 $0.27 $0.06 $25.82

Source: AAP StatShot Annual Report for Calendar Year 2018

Highlighted Points of the 2018 Report

In key points the AAP is highlighting for the news media:

  • Nonfiction books, both adult and children’s and YA, experienced the largest percentage revenue growth for publishers over the past five years. Adult nonfiction revenues grew 22.8 percent and children’s and YA nonfiction revenues grew 38.5 percent from 2014 to 2018. Unit sales for adult nonfiction and children’s and YA nonfiction grew 20.9 percent and 17.8 percent, respectively, over the same five-year period.
  • Publisher revenue for adult fiction was flat (0.4 percent) at $4.40 billion in 2018, while children’s and YA fiction grew slightly (1.6 percent) to $3.72 billion.
  • Religious presses’ revenue grew 14.7 percent in 2018 to $1.22 billion with 75.7 percent of that revenue coming from print formats.
  • Unit sales for fiction for children’s and YA content declined by 0.8 percent, while nonfiction for children’s and YA increased by 0.4 percent. Publisher revenue for children’s YA fiction has grown by 1.6 percent to $3.72 billion and nonfiction has increased by 11.9 percent to around $730 million.
  • Downloaded audio, of course, remained the fastest growing format, with 28.7-percent year-over-year revenue growth from 2017 to 2018 and 181.8-percent revenue growth over the past five years.
  • Within online retail channels:
    • 45.1 percent of publishers’ sales were in trade print formats
    • 24.5 percent were ebooks
    • 14.5 percent were instructional materials
    • 13.7 percent were downloaded audio
    • 2.2 percent were physical audio or a different format

Additionally, we note that the report sees hardback books growing by 3.1 percent to $6.06 billion, while revenue from paperback books declined very slightly by 0.4 percent.

In terms of bookselling—perhaps of special interest with the recent news of the Barnes & Noble acquisition by Elliott Management—the StatShot estimates over five years see a 24.5-percent decline in physical retail, partly offset by a five-year 17.4-percent growth in online sales.

And while ebooks have been seen as a flagging format in the past five years, the report indicates that the highest percentage of publisher revenue in adult fiction in 2018 still came from ebooks. They held 28.0 percent of the market (as opposed to 38.8 percent in 2014), followed by paperbacks at 25.4 percent (compared to 19.0 percent in 2014).


Quoting the association’s material for the press “StatShot Annual is based on a unique methodology that combines annual data submitted by publishers, along with market modeling, to estimate the total volume of the US publishing industry. It’s a different report from the AAP’s monthly statistics reports, which track publisher revenue comparatively on a month-to-month basis.

“In contributing to StatShot Annual,” the association’s material continues, “AAP member and non-member publishers provided data in response to a statistical survey about 2018, covering net revenue and units by categories, channels, and formats.

“Survey participants in StatShot Annual may not be the same as those who participate in AAP’s monthly surveys. Since the annual survey does not include all known industry publishers, estimates are used for publishers who do not participate directly in data collection. These estimates are based on sales data included in company financial reports, trade and news media reporting, government filings, Books In Print, press releases, third party research services, and private sources.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on industry statistics is here. And more from us on the Association of American Publishers is here.

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.com, 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.