AAP’s StatShot for October: A Mixed Report With a Boost in Children’s Books

In News by Porter Anderson

In the US, children’s books saw an increase of more than 20 percent in October, while higher education course materials are down almost 70 percent.

Image: From Abrams’ promotional materials for Jeff Kinney’s 14th Diary of a Wimpy Kid title, ‘Wrecking Ball’

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

That Not-at-All Wimpy Kid’s Effect
A big jump of 20.9 percent to US$317.7 million in the US children’s and young adult books sector pushes the Association of American Publishers‘ (AAP) new StatShot report for October to cite a 3.6-percent rise in the industry, year over year.

At Publishers Weekly, Jim Milliot is attributing this to “the performance of Wrecking Ball“—Jeff Kinney’s 14th book in his world-famous Diary of a Wimpy Kid series from Abrams. Kinney’s show of force, Milliot writes, “helped lift sales of hardcovers, where sales rose 29.3 percent over October 2018. Sales of paperbacks increased 21.7 percent. For the first 10 months of 2019, sales in the children/young adult segment were up 9.9 percent over the comparable period of 2018.”

By contrast, adult books made a 3.7-percent retreat in October, year over year, and it’s in mass market paperbacks that the market saw its most precipitous dive, the format dropping 37.3 percent, year over year.

The AAP’s report, released on Tuesday (January 14), cites an overall rise of 3.6 percent in sales for the year from January to October over the same time frame in 2018. In dollar figures, that puts the 2019 sales at $12.57 billion so far in 2019, over $12.13 billion in 2018.

Overall publisher revenue in October, the AAP’s report tells us, came in at $1.13 billion, which is a small step back (0.8 percent) from the previous October’s $1.14 billion.

It’s good to remember that the initial iterations of StatShot reports can be revised over time. And, as usual, the data reflects reported revenue for all tracked categories, which are:

  • Trade (consumer publications)
  • Pre-K-12 instructional materials
  • Higher education course materials
  • Professional publishing
  • University presses
US Trade in Terms of Format

In terms of format, the association offers several newly devised graphics, and reports, “Physical paper formats continued dominate the trade category, accounting for $751.0 million, or 80.0 percent of the category’s $938.7 million in revenue for the month.

“Among physical formats, paperback books again saw the most growth, climbing 11.0% compared to October 2018.”

Image: AAP

Although downloaded audio increased 15.1 percent to $49.million for October year over year—and has had a remarkable history of “at least some growth every month since AAP began tracking it in 2012″—the above chart from the AAP shows the format in October was accounting for only 5.3 percent of the overall market. Physical audio, of course, shows up at a scant 0.5 percent of the whole.

This isn’t a fact that should in any way diminish the industry’s pleasure and interest in audio’s rise but it can help to keep the contextual point in place. For all the energy behind growth in the downloaded format and all the gemütlich celebration of its strides and quality output, audio still is limited in its reach by comparison to hardcovers’ dominance at 49 percent, paperbacks’ stance at 27 percent, and even ebooks’ 8.5 percent. And surrounded not only by podcasts and other audio offerings but also by the more visually dependent attractions of downloaded digital work, it’s not illogical to keep a sharp eye on the growth curve over time.

And this graphic makes it clear what a fine bounce we see from October 2018 ($43.1 million) and October 2019 ($49.6 million), when the format is simply viewed for its own sales dynamic:

Image: AAP

Ebooks, in fact, experienced another decline, this time of 8.9 percent to $80 million by comparison to October 2018.

October 2019: US Total Trade Net Revenue by Format (in millions)

Charting the formats numbers as we normally do, we get the following:

Format October 2019 October 2018 Percent Change
Hardback $460.1 $443.7 3.7%
Board Book $21.1 $20.7 2.0%
Paperback $249.0 $224.2 11.0%
Mass Market $20.8 $33.2 -37.3%
Physical Audio $4.4 $5.9 -24.7%
Downloaded Audio $49.6 $43.1 15.1%
Ebooks $80.0 $87.9 -8.9%
Other $53.6 $50.9 5.3%
Total Trade $938.7 $909.5 3.2%

Source: AAP

US Publisher Overall Revenues in Categories

College course material publishers might love a Jeff Kinney of their own. There’s a particularly steep decline in higher-educational content, which was “down 67.9 percent year over year, coming [in] at $24.1 million,” in the association’s discussion.

“Year-to-date revenue in this category,” the staff writes, “is down 12.7 percent to $2.5 billion, attributable in part to an ongoing decline in spending on course materials”—as reported by Publishing Perspectives here—”as students take advantage of new, cost-effective options that publishers have made available.” Those options include “rental options for both print and digital materials, loose-leaf versions, and creative new distribution models such as Inclusive Access and subscription services.

In trade category revenues for October’s report, the AAP’s media messaging points out that children’s and YA books in physical formats “posted strong growth, with revenues from hardback books increasing by 29.3 percent to $148.3 million compared to October 2018, and revenues from paperback books growing 21.7 percent vs. the same month last year.”

Additionally the association reports, “Pre-K-12 instructional materials revenues were $120.8 million, up 10.3 percent compared to the same month last year.”

“Professional publishing, which includes business; medical; and law, technical, and scientific publications; increased 6.4 percent from October 2019 to October 2018, reaching $39.3 million.”

In addition, university presses are indicated to have encountered a 15-percent drop in October, year over year.

October 2019: Overall US Publisher Revenue in Categories  (in millions)


Category October 2019 October 2018 Percent Change
Adult Books $561.2 $582.7 -3.7%
Children’s/YA $317.7 $262.7 20.9%
Religious Presses $59.7 $64.1 -6.8%
Professional Books $39.3 $36.9 6.4%
K-12 Instructional Materials $120.8 $109.5 10.3%
Higher Ed Course Materials $24.1 $75.0 -67.9%
University Presses $3.8 $4.4 -15.0%
All Other $5.9 $6.3 -6.4%
Total $1,132.4 $1,141.7 -0.8%

Source: AAP

The customary explanatory copy from the AAP reads: “Publisher net revenue, including sales to bookstores, wholesalers, direct to consumer, online retailers, etc., is tracked monthly by the Association of American Publishers (AAP).”

Participation can change over time, and includes revenue this time from 1,361 publishers, with participation subject to change over time.

As the association points out, “It is not possible to make apples-to-apples comparisons to StatShot reports issued in previous years because: (a) the number of StatShot participants fluctuates over time, with the pool of participants growing or shrinking in each report; and (b) it’s a common accounting practices for businesses, including publishers, to restate revenue numbers based on updated information. If, for example, a business learns that its revenues were greater in a given year than its reports indicated, it will restate the revenues in subsequent reports, providing information that is more up-to-date and accurate.”

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.