US audio booms by 29% but overall publishing sales dip

US audio booms by 29% but overall publishing sales dip

American publishers’ total industry sales dipped slightly in 2017, but audio downloads continued to boom, rising by 28.8% year-on-year.

The Association of American Publishers' (AAP) annual StatShot puts 2017’s industry sales at $26.23bn, showing a slight decline from $26.27bn the year before.

The figures contain publishers’ net revenues from trade, higher education, course materials, school instructional materials, professional books and university press, across all formats from all distribution channels and do not represent retailer or consumer sales figures.

The latest figures reveal an ongoing hunger for audio from American readers, with downloads up 28.8% from 2016 to 2017 to $820 million. This continues the trend from the AAP’s quarterly report last September, which showed that audio revenues in the US rose 29% in the first four months of 2017, as well as across the pond in the UK, where the Publishers Association's figures posted earlier this month revealed a 22% uplift in the UK to £31m. Meanwhile, e-book sales fell 5.3% in the year, to $2.05 billion. Between 2013 and 2017 e-book sales fell 36.7%.

Trade comprises the biggest industry category in the AAP report and showed a slight increase from $15.9bn to £15.95bn, led by readers’ renewed interest in non-fiction, which rose 5.4% on 2016. Since 2013, revenue for the category has grown 28.4% to $6.18bn. This follows The Bookseller’s report last month which revealed a dramatic shift in the UK non-fiction market driven partly by the decline of celebrity memoirs and an appetite in ‘brainy’ backlist titles. 

However, adult fiction in the AAP figures dipped slightly by -1.2% to $4.38bn, continuing the overall trend of the last five years - between 2013 to 2017, this category saw only one year of revenue growth in 2015. And the higher education, school and professional categories remained relatively flat.

Children’s and adults’ books gave US publishers reason for optimism, with more units sold in 2017 than in 2016, up 1.1% and 4.4% respectively. Over the past five years publisher revenue for children’s and YA fiction has grown by 11.3% to $3.67 billion, although non-fiction has declined by -2.3% to $652m.

Publisher revenue for trade books comprising fiction, non-fiction and religious presses were essentially flat overall (increasing by 0.3%) increasing by $45m in 2017 over 2016.

Meanwhile, for the first time, publisher sales to physical and online retail channels were roughly equal at $7.6bn and $7.5bn respectively last year.

Revenue from higher education was flat with growth of only 0.5%, while revenue from school text books and professional books declined in 2017 by -2.9% and -0.7% respectively.

According to Publishers Weekly, the AAP’s survey is based on figures submitted by over 1,200 publishers combined with estimates based on AAP's model for publishers that did not report sales.