Final estimates released last week by the Association of American Publishers show that total industry sales dipped 0.6% in 2015 compared to 2014, falling to $27.78 billion. Unit sales rose 0.5% to 2.45 billion. The small drop in 2015 revenue followed an increase of 3.3% in 2014 and continues the trend of modest annual sales changes—both up and down—within the industry.

Total sales in the trade category (which for AAP purposes includes religion plus adult and juvenile trade) rose 2.6% last year to $15.84 billion. The trade increase was driven by the two nonfiction categories. Adult nonfiction sales were up 10.9%, to $5.51 billion, while sales in the children’s and young adult nonfiction segment were up 17%, to $617 million. The strength in nonfiction offset softness in fiction, particularly in the children’s and young adult category, where fiction sales fell 6.1%; sales of adult fiction rose 1.1%.

A bright spot for the trade market was downloadable audiobooks, whose sales rose 37.6% in 2015, to $551.7 million, and units increased 41.1%. The AAP reported that trade e-book sales fell 11.3% in the year, to $2.84 billion, while units fell 9.7%.

Both the hardcover and trade paperback formats posted sales gains in 2015: trade hardcover sales were up 8.3% and trade paperback rose 2.7%. With trade e-book sales falling and sales in the two major print formats increasing, e-books’ share of trade sales fell from 19.3% in 2014 to 17.3% last year.

Sales in the two educational publishing categories dropped in 2015. Revenue in the pre-K–12 education market fell 3.8%, to $4.11 billion, and sales in the higher education category declined 7.6%, to $4.49 billion.

The AAP also found that trade sales through both physical and online retailers rose last year. Sales at physical retail increased 1.8% over 2014, while sales through online retailers rose 3.3%. The faster growth rate through online retailers resulted in a slight gain in their share of trade sales. Online retail accounted for 32.8% of trade revenue in 2015, up from 32.5% in 2014. And even though bricks-and-mortar stores had an increase in sales last year, their share of the market fell from 25.3% in 2014 to 24.9% in 2015.

The final AAP figures are derived from actual sales from about 1,800 companies that report directly to the association; AAP also uses a variety of sources to estimate sales for publishers that do not report to the association. The new figures are relatively close to the numbers that the AAP released earlier this year, based on sales from more than 1,200 reporting publishers. At that time, total sales were down 2.6%, compared to the 0.6% decline found in the final figures, while trade sales were reported to have risen 2.2%, compared to the 2.6% gain reported last week.

Category Sales, 2014–2015

($ in millions)

2014 2015 Change
Adult Books $9,872.2 $10,467.4 6.0%
Children/Young Adult $4,418.6 $4,271.2 -3.3%
Religious Presses $1,138.1 $1,097.9 -3.5%
Professional Books $3,087.1 $3,057.2 -1.0%
K-12 Instr. Materials $4,274.3 $4,110.1 -3.8%
Higher Ed. Materials $4,852.8 $4,485.9 -7.6%
University Presses $304.0 $289.8 -4.7%
Other $8.7 $5.1 -41.7%
Total $27,957.1 $27,784.8 -0.6%

Adult Trade Sales by Format, 2014–2015

($ in millions)

2014 2015 Change
Hardcover $4,984.2 $5,399.9 8.3%
Board Books $269.3 $299.0 11.0%
Trade Paperback $5,092.6 $5,228.8 2.7%
Mass Market Paperback $883.9 $757.7 -14.3%
E-books $3,202.2 $2,840.9 -11.3%
Physical Audio $191.8 $185.5 3.3%
Downloadable Audio $401.1 $551.7 37.6%
All Other $404.9 $573.1 41.5%
Total $15,430.1 $15,836.7 2.6%

Source: Association of American Publishers