In a result no one in publishing would have predicted last spring when Covid-19 first hit the U.S., book publishing sales finished 2020 flat with 2019 based on year-end figures supplied by 1,354 publishers to AAP’s StatShot program. The two major trade categories, adult books and children/young adult, had gains of 12% and 6.4%, respectively, while the two big educational segments saw declines.
With many public schools teaching remotely for long stretches of last year, sales of K-12 instructional materials fell 19.6% in 2020 compared to 2019. Sales of higher educational course materials declined 4.3% last year as many colleges and university turned to hybrid instruction, which changed buying habits by students.
In the adult books segment, sales of both print and digital formats rose in the year. Hardcover sales had the largest increase, up 18.9% over 2019. They were helped by a strong December, during which sales, boosted by big sales of Barack Obama’s A Promised Land—which had a $45 cover price—rose 25.8%. Trade paperback sales increased 7.8% in the year, while mass market paperback sales dipped by 2.5%.
The downloadable audio format had another great year, with sales up 15.3%. Its share of all adult sales inched up to 10.3% in 2020, from 10% in 2019. E-books had their strongest performance in several years, with sales rising 11% over 2019, but since print sales had a bigger annual increase, e-books’ share of adult sales fell slightly, to 17%, from 17.2% in 2019.
In the children/YA category, digital sales in the year skyrocketed but still remained a relatively small part of overall revenue. E-book sales jumped 70.5% in the year and accounted for 5.5% of category sales, while downloadable audio sales increased 37% and accounted for 2.8% of revenue. The board book format had a great year, with sales up 18.2% and accounting for 7.9% of overall sales. Hardcover sales increased 5.6%, while paperback sales rose 3.2%.
The year-end numbers are a solid recovery from April and May, when disruptions to the supply chain caused the AAP to note that gross sales were experiencing deep declines—all while acknowledging that net sales were faring better because of a steep drop in returns. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.) Many in the industry were bracing for a flood of returns once the supply chain improved, but excessive returns never materialized. For the year, total returns were down 20.2% compared to 2019, with returns in both trade segments each down by about 20%.
Later this year, the AAP will issue estimates for total industry sales, which combines StatShot figures with projections for companies that do not report data to the association.