There is no question that, boosted by more than 13 million copies sold of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sales in the children's hardcover segment were up significantly in 2005. But did sales really rise 59%, as reported by the Association of American Publishers last month? At least a few children's publishers think that number is much too high. And a number of religion publishers believe that rather than falling 6.1%, as reported by the AAP, sales of religion books actually rose in 2005.
Questions about the children's hardcover and religion numbers highlight the ongoing concerns some industry members have about the accuracy of publishing stats.
The two organizations that collect data—AAP and Book Industry Study Group—not only don't agree on rates of growth in publishing, they don't even agree on the size of the industry. For 2004, the last year for which BISG numbers are available, the group reported that total sales rose 2.8%, to $28.5 billion, while the AAP said sales fell 1.3%, to $22.8 billion. Both the AAP and BISG are hampered by lack of cooperation from publishers. The AAP monthly sales estimates are based on reports from only 74 publishers, whose total sales in 2005 came to $9.11 billion—36% of AAP's total estimated sales of $25.07 billion.
To measure the market, AAP uses the sample from its monthly report and then applies that increase to the previous year. In the case of children's hardcover, for example, revenue from the 13 publishers that reported sales (which totaled about 21% of the overall market) showed a 59% increase, compared to 2004. That 59% figure is used by AAP to bump up the $2.2 billion in sales reported in 2004. That method gives a result that shows children's hardcover sales rising $1.4 billion in 2005. The increase was called "bizarre" by the head of the children's group at one major house and "implausible" by another.
Tina Jordan, AAP v-p, said that the 59% increase is a real number that shows the increase between the two years for the reporting companies. The larger figure of $3.6 billion is an estimate for the entire children's hardcover market, she noted. Jordan said the association is "always looking for ways to improve our data" and said the AAP would "welcome" greater publisher participation. Jordan added that the AAP is in talks with BISG, "exploring ways in which we can cooperatively utilize the strengths of our respective data on behalf of the industry."
The AAP children's number gets qualified support from the Children's Book Council. Paula Quint, head of CBC, said that while final numbers from the CBC's own sales sample aren't complete, two publishers posted significant increases in hardcover sales last year, and the CBC figure will show a "substantial" increase in the year. She wouldn't speculate if the number will reach 59%. The BISG statistics for 2005 won't be available for another month. Projections made last year for 2005 called for an 8% sales increase in the hardcover children's segment.
The AAP will be getting some help in compiling sales in the religion book segment. Jordan said the association is in discussion with the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association to use its membership data "to get a fuller representation of the industry." Preliminary ECPA figures show that book sales to Christian bookstores fell 3% last year, while Bible sales were up about 9%. Factor in sales from all channels, however, and ECPA estimates that sales last year for its publishers will be up 10% to 12%. BISG had estimated that religion sales this year would increase 11%. The AAP religion estimate is based on a sample of five publishers, including HarperCollins/Zondervan—and sales of Zondervan's megaseller Purpose-Driven Life were slower in 2005 than in 2004. [See Jonathan Merkh's Soapbox (p. 80) on religion books and the bestseller list.] ECPA puts the Christian retail market at between $2.2 billion and $2.5 billion, substantially higher than the numbers the AAP suggests.