AAP StatShot: US Market up Slightly Year-to-Date, March Down 4.2 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its StatShot report released this morning (May 27), the Association of American Publishers (AAP) for March 2022, released for publication today (May 27), trade revenues are seen falling 6.4 percent, but are up 2.0 percent, year-to-date.

March trade revenues across all other categories came to US$804.4 million, which is down 4.2 percent from the figure for March 2021. Year-to-date revenues up that slight 2.2 percent, came in at $3.0 billion for Q1. As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the AAP’s numbers reflect reported revenue for tracked categories including trade (consumer books); K-12 instructional materials; higher education course materials; professional publishing; and university presses.

That step back of 6.4 percent translates to $702.5 million. And what to watch for is just below: Look at this big drop in hardback sales from last year’s March figures.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 19 percent, coming in at $238.1 million
  • Paperbacks were up 8.6 percent, at $266.0 million in revenue
  • Mass market was down 30.7 percent to $14.3 million
  • Special bindings were down 17.6 percent, with $12.7 million in revenue

Paper formats, according to a note from the association’s team, “still account for 75.6 percent of all trade sales. And–as was discussed in an audiobook and podcast panel Publishing Perspectives moderated this month at the Jerusalem International Book Fair, a part of what’s reflected in that paper-formats observation may have to do with the fact that downloadable audio—so loudly praised for its gains on the market—in March came in at 9.0 percent of the overall trade, trailing ebooks at 10.9 percent. (See the graphic to the right.)

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 12.2 percent for the month as compared to March 2021 for a total of $76.9 million
  • Downloaded audio was up 8.4 percent for March, at $63.5 in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 20.1 percent, at $1.3 million

Year-to-Date Numbers

  • Year-to-date, the industry’s trade revenues were up 2.0 percent, at $2.1 billion for the first three months of the year.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 3.0 percent, coming in at $740.6 million
  • Paperbacks were up 14.6 percent, with $763.5 million in revenue
  • Mass market was down 20.1 percent to $49.4 million
  • Special bindings were down 3.1 percent, with $43.6 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 9.8 percent as compared to the first three months of 2021 for a total of $249.3 million
  • The downloaded audio format was up 2.7 percent, coming in at $194.5 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 23.4 percent coming in at $3.7 million

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that the report only covers revenues generated by traditional publishers and likely does not include more than a few small and mid-sized traditional publishers. Plus, to the best of PG’s knowledge, publishers report on the honor system and the AAP doesn’t perform any sort of checks or audits on the financial information they receive.

He will also note that, due to the right that many traditional bookstores have to return unsold hard copy books to the publisher for full credit/refunds, big purchases of books by bookstores of all sizes in December may generate large returns in January or February, adversely impacting publisher financial performance for the first calendar quarter of the year.

Additionally, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon doesn’t disclose its sales of KDP ebooks and POD to any third parties, nor is he aware that Amazon Publishing shares its sales outside the company.

PG suspects that traditional publishers that are either publicly owned or are subsidiaries of larger companies which are publicly owned provide accurate numbers due to potential claims for fraudulent disclosures under the laws and rules governing what publicly owned companies must disclose and the penalties for knowingly disclosing incorrect information about the company’s sales, etc.

Here’s an excerpt from the AAP’s description of how it gathers information underlying its reports:

“We’ll excerpt here from the proverbial fine print provided on methodology for this report. We’ve edited only slightly, to minimize promotional language and to do away with a few gratuitous institutional capitalizations.

“AAP StatShot reports the monthly and yearly net revenue of publishing houses from US sales to bookstores, wholesalers, direct to consumer, online retailers, and other channels.

“The pool of StatShot participants may fluctuate from report to report [this month’s report coming from some 1,366 publishers]

“Like any business, it’s common accounting practice for publishing houses to update and restate their previously reported revenue data.

“If, for example, a business learns that its revenues were greater in a given year than its reports first indicated, it will restate the revenues in subsequent reports to AAP, permitting AAP in turn to report information that’s more accurate than before.”

12 thoughts on “AAP StatShot: US Market up Slightly Year-to-Date, March Down 4.2 Percent”

  1. This shark is even more pessimistic than is PG on the accuracy and meaningfulness of these reported, unverified and unverifiable, insufficiently delineated numbers. In no particular order:

    • PG’s concern about publisher misreporting is both well-taken and understated. At present, for example, only HarperCollins et al. (a subsidiary, ultimately, of NewsCorp) and Simon & Shuster (a subsidiary, ultimately, of whatever Redstone-controlled public entity it’s assigned to this month) qualify as “either publicly owned or are subsidiaries of larger companies which are publicly owned.” All of the others at best are subsidiaries of foreign-owned conglomerates of varying (and frequently opaque) reporting requirements/systems. <sarcasm> And the accuracy of public reports of those numbers matters if, and only if, those public reports are material to determining the securities price of the owning entity. History says… not so much. </sarcasm>

    • The AAP does not concern itself with books sold outside “the trade.” Libraries are treated inconsistently; textbooks (at all levels) are treated inconsistently but generally excluded; non-trade outlets, especially nonreturnables, are excluded (all of those how-to books at what Bob Villa called “your local home improvement store,” for example); nonmember books are generally excluded; government works — and the US Government Printing Office is by far the biggest publisher in the world, even just considering its for-sale-to-the-public products — are excluded.

    • Nobody has asked the AAP how it treats books that are returned and then resold, or how it asks its members. At least not since 2002 to my knowledge. And that matters; a fair number of returns come back in their original cartons, never having been on shelves (as any author impacted by the Borders bankruptcy found out… 30 months later when the statements were finally reconciled, sort of). The less said about return relationships between the big distributors and the publishers’ accounting departments, the better for everyone.

    • And that’s before getting to the “self-reported, unverified, and nonauditable” nature of these figures in the first place. Let’s just say that campaign accounting for Richard I (Daley) was more transparent and more fundamentally honest… and remember that it’s in both the collective and individual best interests of publishers to keep sales figures unclear and nonauditable. (Three words: Thor Power Tools.)

    • I hadn’t thought of Richard J. Daley for a very long time, C.

      For anyone who doubts that the dead rise from their graves, in Chicago they did. On Election Day. To vote straight Democratic Party tickets.

      • Chitown isn’t the only area with a history of zombie voter infestations.
        Louisiana being notorious under Edwards in the 60’s.
        John Kennedy 1960 was a big beneficiary according to some sources that tie Watergate to it.

      • His son (Richard II, Hizzonah Richahd M Daley (1989–2011)) appears to have carried on the family tradition. So much so that — while living 200km from that Picasso statue made famous in The Blues Brothers — one election day my teenaged kid plastered about half a dozen “I Voted” stickers on his jacket. When the principal confronted him about it, his comment was “This close to Chicago, I’m sure I did.”

        And remember: The purpose of publishers is not to create disorder — it is to preserve disorder.

    • Thanks for the explanation C.

      My gut reaction to almost any statistics – or survey results – regarding the book trade is sceptical but it is good to have solid reasons to back this up (given that gut reactions are driven by one’s biases rather than empirical data).

        • So do you believe that publishing is collectively of a dispositionist nature or that it has never been in their interests to tell the truth? Or both …?

          • Both.
            The Manhattan Mafia, anyway.
            (Smaller publishers outside NYC can be considerd semi-honest until proven guilty.)
            Their accounting practices have long been known to be worse tban Hollywood. Which is something right there.

            Their history of shenanigans goes back to the nineteenth century. (You familiar with the “Land Pirates”?) Dickens and Kipling were among the bigger vuctims:

            Just in case:
            https://www.cnet.com/culture/how-piracy-built-the-u-s-publishing-industry/

            So yes, it is in their corporate culture to lie and cheat.
            As KKR has pointed out repeatedly, the big publishers rarely allow audits, even when contractually negotiated. Often tbey cave rather than allow an audit. That says it all…

            • One of the leading proponents of US copyright reform was…

              Arthur Sullivan. Of “Gilbert & Sullivan.” Who undertook several tours in the US decrying pirated productions of his musicals.

              One wonders whether he discussed the modern paper publisher from the piano.

              But that points out that there’s an entertainment industry whose accounting is worse than either H’wood or print publishing: Music. (For both “publishing” and “recording.”)

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