A 1.5% increase in sales in the trade segment was not enough to offset declines in the other major publishing categories in 2016. As a result, industry revenue was 5.1% lower in 2016 than in 2015, dropping to $26.24 billion, according to the final sales estimates released by the Association of American Publishers.

Trade sales (including the religious segment) were $15.9 billion in 2016, making trade the largest publishing segment. Within the trade group, sales from religious presses increased 6.9% from the prior year, followed closely by the 6.7% gain in the children’s/young adult fiction category.

The increase in sales in the religious segment was attributed by the AAP to the crossover successes of a number of inspirational titles. The gain in the children’s/YA fiction segment was due in part to the blockbuster hit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, which sold more than four million units.

Adult fiction was the only trade segment in which sales declined in 2016, falling 7.8% from 2015. The lack of a new big book was a factor in the drop in sales, as was the inability of novelists to get media attention while the broadcast and cable networks covered the presidential election.

Recent format trends in the trade segment continued into 2016: print sales rose, sales of e-books fell, and sales of downloadable audio jumped from their 2015 level. Trade paperback sales rose 5.4% in the year and hardcover sales increased 4.9%. Sales of mass market paperback dipped 0.4%.

E-book sales fell for the third straight year in 2016, down 16.9% to $2.26 billion. E-books remained the most popular format in adult fiction, where they accounted for 33% of sales, the AAP reported.

As for downloadable audio, sales rose 19.7%. Downloadable audio sales were put at $643 million by the AAP, more than double the 2012 figure.

In the education and scholarly segments, pre-K–12 sales were 9.2% lower than in 2015, higher-educational course materials dropped 12.6%, and professional book sales were down 22.5%. AAP attributed the lower pre-K–12 sales to a down year for state textbook adoptions in large states. The decline in the higher-education market was attributed to several factors, including students switching from print to digital educational materials, lower enrollments, and changes in student purchasing behaviors. The drop in professional publishing revenue was due to stagnant library budgets, AAP said. (Sales for the higher-education and professional segments showed improvement in the first quarter of 2017; see p. 8.)

The final sales figures are based on reports from about 1,800 publishers, which are then augmented by estimates from publishers that do not report to the AAP.

Industry Sales, 2015-2016

($ and units in billions)

2015 2016 Change
Revenue $27.66 $26.24 -5.1%
Units 2.67 2.71 1.2%

Trade Revenue by Category, 2015–2016

($ in billions)

2015 2016 Change
Adult Fiction $4.81 $4.43 -7.8%
Adult Nonfiction $5.59 $5.87 5.1%
Children’s/Young Adult Fiction $3.58 $3.82 6.7%
Children’s/Young Adult Nonfiction $0.64 $0.65 1.4%
Religious Presses $1.06 $1.13 6.9%

Source: Association of american publishers