AAP StatShot: US Trade Book Sales Up 9.7 Percent for 2020

In Children's, Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The AAP StatShot report on US book sales in 2020 reveals a strong year for trade books, up almost 10 percent, but there were revenue declines in K-12 and higher education materials.

In Midtown Manhattan on East 42nd Street, February 17. Image – iStockphoto: Massimo Giachetti

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

Audiobooks Finished 2020 Up 16.5 Percent
The final StatShot report for 2020 from the Association of American Publishers (AAP)—just released today (February 25)—is one that will be looked over with care by publishers because it produces a calendar-year set of US book sales figures for the first year of the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. And while the StatShot figures can undergo adjustments over time prompted by changing data, the news today is cheering: For calendar year 2020, the American trade book market showed a 9.7-percent gain.

This of course reflects the data of the NPD Group’s earlier BookScan calculation that US print sales in 2020 rose 8.2 percent. StatShot has a wider purview, gauging more formats and sectors.

What we can see now in these newly released numbers is more evidence of a robust performance by the trade sector of the United States’ market during what, on the face of it last spring, looked like a potentially damaging natural disaster, the arrival of a lethal pathogen. A lot of resilience, fast thinking, and nimble adaptation went into the industry’s ability to come out of such a year so strong.

And as many have noted, there’s also a lot of luck to be taken into account.

By comparison to so many industries, most of publishing’s people could and can work from home, withdrawing from the public square in which the virus is transmitted. What’s more, the tenacity of booksellers—many of whom had to stay closer to the front lines than others in the business—can’t be overlooked. Various elements of the supply chain faced different levels of challenge.

Publishing overall is an industry fortunate to have been making a product that many wanted while sheltering—a good read, an informative companion, a distraction. And the advanced development of the American digital commerce system meant that a lot of retail operations could readily respond, even when physical points of sale were disrupted. In some markets of the world, limited e-commerce and digital infrastructure presented deeper struggles.

December 2020 Performance by Category

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

The trade saw a strong December, with consumer books up 9.5 percent at $796.1 million. However, total revenues across all categories were down 8.5 percent as compared to December 2019, coming in at $1.1 billion.

Image: AAP StatShot

  • Religious press revenues were up 6.4 percent in December, coming in at $56.4 million
  • During December 2020, education revenues were $317.7 million, down 34.8 percent compared with December of 2019
  • Revenues from higher education course materials were down 47.7 percent for the month, as compared to December of 2019, coming in at $177.0 million
  • PreK-12 instructional materials revenues were down 1.5 percent for December 2020, at $69.9 million
  • Professional books, including business, medical, law, technical and scientific, were down 10.1 percent during the month, coming in at $66.1 million
  • University presses were up 2.6 percent as compared to December of 2019, bringing in $4.7 million in revenue
Calendar Year 2020 Performance by Category

As mentioned above, for January through December 2020, trade (consumer book) sales were up 9.7 percent as compared to the same period last year, coming in at $8.6 billion. The calendar year sales across all categories, however, were flat, with an increase of 0.1 percent as compared to calendar 2019, a total of $14.8 billion.

US book sales 2020, AAP StatShot report

Image: AAP StatShot

  • Religious presses were up 4.2 percent for the calendar year, with revenues of $667.2 million
  • Year-to-date education revenues were down 10.9 percent as compared to calendar 2019, coming in at $6 billion
  • On a calendar-year basis, higher education revenues were down 4.3 percent to $2.9 billion
  • PreK-12 instructional material revenues were down 19.6 percent at $2.5 billion on a year-to-date basis
  • The category was up 1.0 percent for the calendar year, with $618.9 million in revenue
  • For calendar 2020 university presses rose 2.2 percent, bringing in $49.4 million
Formats’ Performance in December and 2020

US Image: AAP StatShotIn formats, we’ll take print and digital classifications for the month of December, then for the calendar year 2020.

First for the month of December, in physical print format revenues , the trade (consumer books) category saw:

  • Hardcover revenues up 14.2 percent, at $312.5 million
  • Paperbacks up 2.4 percent, with $248.1 million in revenue
  • Mass market down 1.6 percent to $25.9 million
  • Board books up 6.2 percent, with $16.7 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were up 18.4 percent for the month as compared to December of 2019 for a total of $89.7 million
  • The downloaded audio format jumped 30.0 percent for December, coming in at $66.0 million in revenue
  • Physical audio declined 6.7 percent coming in at $1.9 million

Then for the calendar year 2020, the trade (consumer books) category saw:

  • Hardcover revenues up 12.9 percent, to $3.4 billion
  • Paperbacks up 5.6 percent to $2.6 billion
  • Mass market down 2.9 percent to $228.3 million
  • Board books up 18.2 percent to $192.8 million as compared to 2019

And for the calendar year in digital formats:

  • Ebooks were up 15.6 percent, coming in at $1.1 billion
  • Downloaded audio was up 16.5 percent as compared to 2019, with a total of $675.6 million for the year
  • Physical audio was down 26.3 percent, with $25.8 million in revenue

As always, the relative percentages held by formats in the final month of the year are interesting. Note that audiobooks, while having reached the calendar-year’s conclusion with a strong 16.5 percent gain in downloaded audio, were still at 8.3 percent of the market, basically where they’d been before the pandemic’s assault. Physical audio, of course, has continued its decline—broken briefly in the holiday gift period—as downloaded audio powers the steady performance in audiobooks.

And ebooks, at 11.3 percent of the market are not that far from where they stood in November 2019, when they stood at 11.7 percent of the whole picture.


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.”

The Coronavirus in the United States

On Monday (February 22), the United States—by far displaying the most horrific numbers in the world pandemic—passed another terrible milestone, the 500,000th recorded death to COVID-19. While it’s understandable and correct for publishing’s people to be proud of their achievements under such extraordinary conditions, it’s also good to remember that both in the States and the other markets of the international book business, 2,499,419 people have not lived to keep reading.

That world fatality figure is from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center which, at this writing, shows in its 6:23 a.m. ET update (1123 GMT) a total 28,336,203 COVID-19 cases in the States’ population of 328 million, with 505,899 fatalities.

As unthinkable as many of these numbers are, the trends remain good, with a 34-percent decrease in new cases from two weeks, prior, as The New York Times reports. This means that the USA is seeing fewer than 70,000 new cases per day for the first time since October. Under the Biden administration’s new direction of the federal vaccination program, about 6 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated and 13 percent of the population has had at least one dose.

As the Food and Drug Administration issues the anticipate Emergency Use Authoriation, the new Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine is expected to move into the supply channels within days, and daily averages show some 1.6 million injections, surpassing the Biden outlook of 1 million injections daily.

As Apoorva Mandavilli reports for the Times, however, the accelerating spread of the B.1.1.7 UK varient doubling in presence every 10 days or so, it appears to have been joined in New York City by a new variant, B.1.526. Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are going into tests with boosters, Katie Thomas at the Times reports, relative to variants including the B.1.351 South African mutation.

At Grand Central Station, escalators off the main hall to the subway lines’ platforms, February 17. Image – iStockphoto: Massimo Giachetti

More from Publishing Perspectives on industry statistics is here. More on the Association of American Publishers is here and more on the US market 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 is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he 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 (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.