Final sales numbers for 2021 from the Association of American Publishers show a 12.3% increase in industry sales, with total sales hitting $29.33 billion, up from $26.1 billion in 2020. The final figure is a marked improvement over numbers from the previous four years, when sales ranged between $25 billion and $26 billion.

The easing of the pandemic in 2021 had a significant impact on industry sales last year. Most notably, sales in the pre-K-12 instructional materials category jumped 25.3%, to $4.81 billion, as students returned to schools in greater numbers. The 2021 increase followed a 12.3% decline in 2020, and the 2021 jump lifted category sales to the highest level in at least five years. Following a 5.2% drop in sales in 2022, the higher education category also saw a gain last year, with sales rising 2.8% over 2020, to $3.22 billion.

The trade category followed up a 6.1% increase in 2020 with an 11.6% sales jump in 2021, with sales at $18.79 billion. Within the trade segment, sales through physical retailers reversed three years of declines, posting a 40.4% increase, with sales reaching $3.66 billion as stores reopened after a long period of lockdowns. Sales through online channels, which jumped 25% in 2020, slipped 0.5% last year, to $8.39 billion. Sales through physical retailers accounted for 19.5% of all trade revenue in 2021, up four percentage points from 2020, while online retailers’ share of sales fell to 44.7% in 2021, from 50.1% in 2020.

Loosening of the pandemic’s grip on the country also had an affect on format sales in trade books. The 12.4% increase in sales of e-books in 2020 was reversed, with sales declining 5%, to $1.97 billion, in 2021. Downloadable audio sales posted another double-digit annual sales gain, with sales up 12.8%, to $1.75 billion. Hardcovers generated the highest revenue, with sales of $7.07 billion—a 13.6% gain—while trade paperback sales rose 14.2%, to $6.24 billion.

Sales of religious presses rose 21.9% last year, to $1.42 billion. It was the first increase since 2018. (Sales of religious books are broken out from the trade segment). In the remaining major categories, sales of professional books increased 8.5%, to $2.04 billion, the first gain in the segment since 2018. University press sales increased 12.2%, to $450 million.

The final AAP sales estimates are generated by combining input from 2,231 participating publishers (either contributing directly or through their distributors), who reported a total of $16.86 billion in revenue, with $12.44 billion in estimated revenue for non-reporting publishers—a figure developed through market modeling by Management Practice Inc. Companies that supplied sales to the report were asked to provide five years of data to ensure comparability.