AAP StatShot: US Adult Book Sales Up 35.4 Percent in November

In News by Porter Anderson

An unusual dip for downloaded audiobooks plays into the November 2020 StatShot book sales figures from the Association of American Publishers.

On the Potomac River in Washington, DC, sculling during an unusually warm spell in November. This shot was made on November 5. Image – iStockphoto: Mike Stevens

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

Early Holiday Shopping Boosts November
An interesting confirmation arrives today (January 25) from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) of the strength of the holiday season for the book industry in the United States.

As we’ve reported from NPD Book analysis, print book sales tracked for the year by NPD BookScan rose 8.2 percent in 2020 despite—and in some ways because of—the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

In StatShot reports, you’ll remember, the AAP’s numbers reflect reported revenue for all tracked categories, including trade (consumer books); K-12 instructional materials; higher education course materials; professional publishing; and university presses.

Year-Over-Year: All Categories Up 24.5 Percent

Image: AAP StatShot

As seen above, total revenues across all categories for November 2020 were up 24.5 percent as compared to November 2019, coming in at US$1.2 billion.

That eye-catching adult books jump of 35.4 percent year-over-year is of course driven by the release in November of A Promised Land by Barack Obama from Penguin Random House’s Crown Publishing.

Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader, in his analysis today of these figures, also points to the previous November having been “a dismal outlier, so this year’s gain was more of a return to the norm, with sales running a little below the strong $883 million from November 2018.”

Year to Date: Trade Up 9.7 Percent

Image: AAP StatShot

By contrast, year-to-date sales in all categories, above, were flat with an increase of 0.8 percent as compared to the first eleven months of 2019, a total of $13.6 billion.

In trade sales, year-to-date (January to November 2020), StatShot reporting showed a rise of 9.7 percent  as compared to the same period last year, coming in at $7.8 billion.

Formats: Downloaded Audio Takes a Rare Step Back

Image: AAP StatShot


The downloaded audio format broke its long-standing trend of continuous growth every month since 2012, with a decline of 1.6 percent for November, coming in at $56.0 million in revenue. Physical audio, however, jumped 30.0 percent, coming in at $4.1 million.

That may seem counterintuitive, as digital audio is well understood to have given audiobooks the new life they’ve enjoyed for years. But as Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly points out, holiday shopping ran early this year—something urged by retailers because of the complications of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic—and a physical format, such as a compact disc, works far better as a gift under the tree than an “invisible” download.

On a year-to-date basis, downloaded audio was up 15.2 percent as compared to the same period in 2019, with a total of $609.6 million for the year so far. Physical Audio was down 27.6 percent , with $23.9 million in revenue.


Ebook revenues were up 5.1 percent  for the month as compared to November of 2019 for a total of $87.9 million. On a year-to-date basis, ebooks were up 15.2 percent , coming in at $1.0 billion for the first eleven months of 2020.

Print Books

In physical paper format revenues during the month of November, in the trade, the StatShot discussion tells us:

  • Hardcover revenues were up 58.3 percent, coming in at $464.2 million
  • Paperbacks were up 35.6 percent, with $257.2 million in revenue
  • Mass Market was down 23.2 percent to $14.7 million
  • Board Books were up 27.8 percent, with $21.3 million in revenue

On a year-to-date basis:

  • Hardback revenues were $3.1 billion, up 12.8 percent
  • Paperbacks were $2.4 billion, up 6.0 percent
  • Mass Market was $202.4 million, a decline of 3.0 percent
  • Board Books were $176.1 million, up 19.5 percent, as compared to the first eleven months of 2019
Religious and Educational Publishing

Religious Presses

Religious press revenues were up 41.9 percent in November, coming in at $73.8 million. The category was up 4.0 percent, with revenues of $610.9 million for the first 11 months of the year.


During November 2020, education revenues were $253.8 million, down 3.8 percent compared with November of 2019. Year-to-date education revenues were down 9.1 percent as compared to the first eleven months of 2019, coming in at $5.8 billion.

Revenues from higher education course materials were down 19.0 percent for the month, as compared to November of 2019, coming in at $106.8 million. On a year-to-date basis, higher education course material revenues were up 1.2 percent to $2.7 billion.

PreK-12 instructional materials revenues were up 26.6 percent for November 2020, at $86.2 million. PreK-12 instructional materials revenues were down 20 percent at $2.5 billion on a year-to-date basis.

Professional books—including business, medical, law, technical and scientific—were down 4.5 percent during the month, coming in at $47.6 million. The category was up 2.3 percent for the first 11 months of the year, with $552.8 million in revenue.

And university presses were down 13.9 percent as compared to November of 2019, bringing in $3.4 million in revenue. On a year-to-date basis, university presses rose 2.6 percent, bringing in $44.7 million for the first 11 months of 2020.


We’ll quote here the information provided by the association about its monthly reports.

“Publisher net revenue, including sales to bookstores, wholesalers, direct to consumer, online retailers, etc., is tracked monthly by the Association of American Publishers and includes revenue from about 1,360 publishers, with participation subject to change over time.

“StatShot reports are designed to give an up-to-date snapshot of the publishing industry using the best data currently available. The reports reflect participants’ most recent reported revenue for current and previous periods, enabling readers to compare revenue on a year-to-year basis within a given StatShot report.

“It is not, however, possible to make apples-to-apples comparisons to StatShot reports issued in previous years because the number of StatShot participants fluctuates over time, with the pool of participants growing or shrinking in each report; and it’s a common accounting practice 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 on the Association of American Publishers is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing 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.