A strong rebound in sales in the K–12 instructional materials category and solid gains in the trade categories led to a 12.2% increase in publishing sales in 2021 compared to 2020, according to new data from the AAP’s StatShot program. Sales from the 1,369 publishers that report data totaled $15.4 billion last year, up from $13.7 billion in the year before.

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, though the rebound wasn’t as dramatic as for K–12, rising 2.5% last year.

The industry’s largest category, adult books, saw an 11.4% sales increase last year, following a 12% increase in 2020. Sales in the children’s/YA category, which were up 6.4% in 2020, rose 12.9% in 2021. Religion book sales increased 11.2% last year, following up a 4.2% increase in 2020.

Sales of professional books grew 4.1% in 2021, and sales in the university press category gained 12.2%.

Shopping early slowed holiday sales

Sales in the trade categories cooled somewhat toward the end of the year. Adult book sales were up 13.3% through the first nine months of 2021 before slipping slightly in the last three months and landing at 11.4% for the full year, as noted. December sales were down 1.8% compared to December 2020.

In the children’s/YA category, sales were up 14.2% through September, then dipped to land at a 12% increase for full year. The results indicate that warnings to shop early for the holidays because of supply chain problems were heeded.

The two trade categories and the religion category also benefitted from another year of declines 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. 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 category for the publishers that reported sales to AAP. Trade paperback sales jumped 18.6% in the year compared to 2020, 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, and accounted for 10.8% of adult revenue at reporting publishers, 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 compared to 2020. 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 combine StatShot figures with projections for companies that do not report data to the association.