AAP: Six Charts on the US Book Market, 2017 to 2021

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Following record book sales in the US in 2021, we review five years of book market data collected by the Association of American Publishers.

The 2021 AAP StatShot Annual report combines annual data submitted by publishers and distributors with market modeling to provide a view on US book market sales and revenue. Image: AAP

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

Five Years’ StatShot Annual Reports

When the Association of American Publishers’ Annual StatShot Report for 2021 was released in September, that assessment’s key figures estimated that “The United States’ book publishing industry generated US$29.33 billion industry-wide during the year, the highest number ever reported by StatShot Annual. The number reflects a $3.23-billion increase, or 12.3 percent, as compared to 2020 revenues of $26.1 billion.”

This, of course, is good news in one of the world’s most influential and most closely watched markets, particularly during the pandemic years.

Thanks to permission from the team at the Association of American Publishers (AAP), we are able to offer you a look at some of the key findings from the AAP’s annual reporting on the US book market over the last five years.

Maria A. Pallante

Maria A. Pallante, president and CEO of the association, said, “The industry was firing on all cylinders in 2021, delivering benefits up and down the value chain for literature, scholarship, and educational materials. At the end of the day, we know that books are immeasurable and timeless as they make their way in the world. Nevertheless, in an economy that is overcrowded with entertainment options, it’s thrilling and gratifying to see such resounding affirmation for reading.”

As many of our readers know, the StatShot Annual Report incorporates “a unique methodology that combines annual data submitted by publishers and distributors, along with market modeling, to estimate the total volume of the United States’ publishing industry.” More on that methodology is at the end of this article.

Selected Tables: US StatShot Annual Report 2021

Image: Association of American Publishers Statshot 2021 Annual Report. Used by permission

In Table 2.0 above, you can see that all but two sectors saw an increase in revenue in 2021, with trade experiencing a 9.1-percent increase, higher education seeing a 1.3-percent increase, preK-12 education experiencing a 19.3-percent increase, and university presses experiencing an 11.2-percent increase. Professional publishing and the “other” category both experienced a decrease in revenue, with professional decreasing 6.0 percent and “other” falling 24.7 percent.

Image: Association of American Publishers Statshot 2021 Annual Report. Used by permission

In Table 4.1 above, you can see that downloaded audio was the fastest-growing format in the industry from 2017 to 2021, and it generated $1.75 billion in revenue in 2021, a 12.8-percent increase over the previous year (Table 4.0).

In the five-year period from 2017 to 2021, downloaded audio grew a total of 103.9 percent. The growth in revenue continues to come at the expense of physical audio, which declined by 23.7 percent to $50 million in 2021. Physical audio declined by 68.5 percent during the five-year period from 2017 to 2021.

Image: Association of American Publishers Statshot 2021 Annual Report. Used by permission

In table 4.0 above, it’s clear that nearly half (49.3 percent) of industry revenue in 2021 came from two print formats: hardback and paperback. From the report’s discussion:

  • Revenue from hardback books increased 13.7 percent to $7.93 billion in 2021, with revenue from hardbacks growing a total of 24.5 percent from 2017 to 2021 (Table 4.1).
  • Revenue from paperback books increased 15.3 percent to approximately $6.52 billion in 2021. During the five-year period from 2017 to 2021, revenue from paperbacks increased 17.1 percent (Table 4.1).
  • Revenue from mass market increased to $450 million in 2021, a 3.3-percent increase. During the five-year period from 2017 to 2021, mass market revenue declined a total of 36.4 percent (Table 4.1).

Image: Association of American Publishers Statshot 2021 Annual Report. Used by permission

Relative to Table 5.1 above, during 2021, revenues attributable to physical retail reversed a seven-year decline, climbing 23.9 percent as consumers returned to bookstores. Discussion from AAP:

In 2021, publishers showed the greatest percentage growth in the physical retail and direct channels. Revenue increased 23.9 percent for physical retail as compared to 2020, reversing a previous multi-year decline, growing to $6.22 billion.

Direct channels saw an increase of 22.5 percent from 2020 to $5.84 billion. The intermediary channel category grew 14.6 percent to $4.99 billion in revenue, and export channels saw an increase of 18.9 percent from 2020 to $1.49 billion.

Online retail experienced a 0.5-percent decline to $9.60 billion but grew by 24.2 percent in revenue over the past five years. The intermediary channel, direct channel, and export channel all also experienced revenue growth over the five-year period from 2017-2021.

Image: Association of American Publishers Statshot 2021 Annual Report. Used by permission

Relative to Table 5.3 above, in 2021, hardbacks comprised 31.0 percent of publishers’ sales to the online retail channel, while paperbacks made up 22.7 percent of total sales. The hardback category showed an increase in 2021. Ebooks comprised 20.0 percent of publishers’ sales to the online retail channel, downloaded audio represented 15.2 percent, and instructional materials comprised 7.5 percent.

Image: Association of American Publishers Statshot 2021 Annual Report. Used by permission

And per Chart 8.0 above, for trade (consumer books) publishers, physical formats represented more than three-quarters of their 2021 revenue at 75.5 percent. Hardback revenue increased 13.6 percent to $7.07 billion, paperback revenue grew 14.2 percent at $6.24 billion. Special bindings increased 11.6 percent to $420 million, and mass market increased 3.3 percent to $450 million.

Downloaded audio has continually increased market share over the five years covered by this report, and in 2021 represented 9.3 percent of trade publisher revenue. Ebooks declined by 5.0 percent as compared to 2020 coming in at $1.97 billion in 2021 and comprised 10.5 percent of publishers’ total revenue for the year. Mass market represented 2.4 percent of total trade revenue or $450 million, a decline as compared to last year.

Methodology

“The StatShot annual report,” the Association of American Publishers states, “is based on data prepared by Management Practice Inc., which is the Association of American Publishers’ statistics partner, and offers a financial overview of the book publishing industry that’s more than the sum of the Association of American Publishers’ monthly statistics analyses.

“StatShot Annual employs a unique methodology that combines annual data submitted by publishers and distributors, along with market modeling, to estimate the total volume of the United States’ publishing industry.

“Additionally, StatShot Annual reports estimated revenue and unit sales in the following market segments: trade (consumer books), higher education, preK-12, professional, and university presses.

“The Association of American Publishers (or its predecessor) has provided this service in a variety of forms since 1947. Participants are listed at the end of the report. Management Practice Inc. states that the results of the survey are accurate at a 95-percent confidence level, plus or minus 5 percentage points. Percentages may not add to 100 percent due to rounding.”

The full annual report, at 48 pages, is available for purchase from the Association of American Publishers, at US$445.


This article was first published in our Frankfurter Buchmesse Show Magazine, now out for our entire readership in a free digital download for our world readership online. The magazine originally appeared in print on the Messe Frankfurt as Frankfurt Book Fair opened October 19.

The magazine has extensive coverage of issues and trends that are leading discussions and debates at the trade show this year, along with interviews, profiles, and commentary in this strongly attended Frankfurt year. Click here for your download (PDF).

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 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.

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