A strong rebound in sales in the K-12 instructional materials category and another solid year in the trade segments led to a 12.2% increase in sales for 2021, according to new data from the AAP’s StatShot program. Sales from the 1,369 publishers who report data totaled $15.4 billion last year, up from $13.7 billion in 2020.

After falling 19.6% in 2020, sales in the K-12 category jumped 34.6% last year, as states and school districts returned to a more normal buying pattern. Sales in the higher education course materials category recovered from a drop of 4.3% in 2020, although the rebound wasn’t as dramatic as for K-12--rising 2.5% last year.

The industry’s largest segment, adult books, saw an 11.4% sales increase last year following a 12% increase in 2020. Sales in the children’s/young adult category, which had a 6.4% sales gain in 2020, rose 12.9% over 2020. Religion book sales increased 11.2% last year following up a 4.2% increase in 2020.

Sales of professional books increased 4.1% sales in 2021 and sales in the university press segment were up 12.2% in the same period.

Shopping early slowed holiday sales

Sales in the trade segment, particularly in the adult book segment, cooled somewhat towards the end of the year. Sales of adult books were up 13.3% through the first nine months of the year before slipping slightly to the 11.4% gain for the full year. December sales were down 1.8% compared to December 2020.

The cool down wasn’t as dramatic in the children’s/YA category, as sales were up 14.2% through September, dipping slightly to the 12% increase for the full year. The results indicate that shoppers heeded warnings to shop earlier in the year to avoid missing out on books due to supply chain problems.

The two trade segments and the religion category all also benefitted from another year of a decline in returns. In 2020, returns fell by more than 20% overall compared to 2019. Then in 2021 returns dropped 19% in the children’s/YA category and 7.7% in adult books. Returns of religion books fell 5.5%. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.)

Audio Up, E-books Down

Print and digital audiobook sales drove the gains in the adult segment for the publishers who reported sales to AAP. Trade paperback sales jumped 18.6% in the year and hardcover sales rose 11.6%. Mass market sales increased 5.5% at reporting publishers, though earlier this year NPD BookScan reported that units had fallen 3.1%.

Downloadable audio sales rose 15.6% in 2021, to $659 million, at reporting publishers, and accounted for 10.8% of adult revenue, up from 10.4% in 2020. After rising 11% in 2020, e-book sales declined 3.7% last year and the format’s share of adult sales dropped from 17.1% in 2020 to 14.7% last year.

In the children’s/YA category both digital formats saw sales slip in 2021. E-book sales fell 10.5% and downloadable audio sales dropped 2.6%. E-books accounted for 4.4% of sales in the category last year, down from 5.5% in 2020, while digital audio sales were 2.5% of total sales, down from 2.8% in 2020.

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.