Among the trends unearthed in the Association of American Publishers' survey of 20 trade publishers was that returns increased in 2003, while bookstores remained publishers' largest customers. The findings were reported at BookExpo America.

Total net sales from the 20 companies, which include Random House, Penguin USA, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Time Warner Book Group and Holtzbrinck, were $5.58 billion in 2003, up 5.3%. Unit sales rose 2.3%. The gain in net sales was limited by an 8.7% increase in returns. Returns increased by at least 10% in all the major trade publishing segments with the exception of mass market paperback which nonetheless still had the highest overall return rate, 41.8%. The adult hardcover segment had the next highest return rate, at 32.7%.

In looking at channel sales trends, AAP found that bookstores accounted for 47.7% of publishers' receipts in 2003. The other major outlet for publishers was jobbers and wholesalers, which accounted for 41.8% of sales reported by the 20 companies. Special sales represented 6.4% of sales and direct-to-consumer sales 4.2%. (The AAP figures measure publishers' sales in fewer categories than some other studies do.)

Within the bookstore segment, bricks-and-mortar stores accounted for 44.8% of sales and the Internet 2.5%. The sales to online bookstores are lower than most industry estimates, which put sales via e-tailers at about 10%. The lower figure is due to the fact that most online stores are supplied by wholesalers, putting some publishers' sales through the Web in the wholesalers column. That figure should change as continues to make more of its purchases directly from publishers.

In the direct-to-consumer segment, sales made from publishers' Web sites accounted for a microscopic 0.1% of total sales, with most of those sales coming from e-books. The small percentage of sales coming from publishers' Web sites reflects that the AAP data come from most of the major houses, who have been more reluctant to sell directly over the Web than their smaller competitors.

Trade Sales by Channel, 2003

Source: AAP
Adult Hardcover 52.4% 40.0% 6.4% 1.2%
Adult Paperback 67.8 25.7 5.8 0.6
Adult Mass Market 25.3 64.2 1.5 9.0
Juvenile Hardcover 49.3 40.9 9.7 0.1
Juvenile Paperback 50.9 37.0 12.0 0.2
Audio Books 40.3 34.7 17.6 7.5
Electronic Books 30.7 11.3 0.1 57.9
Religious Books 37.7 41.4 2.7 18.2
Other 3.1 1.7 35.3 59.9
Total 47.7% 41.8% 6.4% 4.2%