AAP Figures for June Show Dramatic Print Slump, Continuing Ebook Explosion

The American Association of Publishers (AAP) figures for June were finally released last week (about a month late), and the news is not good for fans of print books.

Like the figures for May, all major print categories are down, while e-books continue to surge. But the headline figure this month is that trade paperback sales, which are usually reasonably robust, have just collapsed.

The figures in the table below are in millions of dollars. You should note that this month there are just 78 houses reporting print data and only 15 reporting e-data, so the usual caveats apply (although the trends are clear and confirmed from other sources).

Adult Hardcover113.884.9-25.4%
Adult Trade Paperback133.748.4-63.8%
Adult Mass Market PB60.447.4-21.6%
Children’s/YA Hardcover60.642.0-30.8%
Children’s/YA Paperback51.544.5-13.6%

The above numbers are direct from the AAP, courtesy of MediaBistro.

You don’t have to stare too hard to see the one growth area there. The trends are more or less what we have seen all year, but that figure for trade paperback is just astonishingly bad. I will be keeping an eye on it to see if it is just a blip.

The obvious worry is that despite the huge growth in e-books, the colossal decline in print numbers means they are losing overall. Big.

I discuss where these readers are going in my regular column for IndieReader called Disruption Is Not A Dirty Word.

Returning to the AAP numbers, we now have six month of data to look at. If you like your analysis graph-shaped, Neil at Ebook Comments does a fine job of plotting all this info any possible way you could imagine.

My abilities are stretched conjuring up a simple table, but here are the total numbers for the first six months of 2011 contrasted against the same period of 2010 (with the same provisos as above, and figures in millions of dollars):

Adult Hardcover617.9471.1-23.8%
Adult Trade Paperback710.1521.5-26.6%
Adult Mass Market PB325.2232.5-28.5%
Children’s/YA Hardcover272.0240.1-11.7%
Children’s/YA Paperback244.0208.0-14.8%

The above table was calculated by adding the five month YTD figures from the AAP last month to this month’s figures. Any errors are my own.

The trends are the most important thing here, rather than the raw revenue numbers as we have some houses not reporting e-figures and an incomplete picture of the industry in general with only a limited amount of houses participating.

It should also be noted that these numbers never include self-publishers whose sales are predominantly digital.

But the trends are clear, tally with what we have seen all year, and are confirmed from other sources such as the limited figures available from Amazon, and print data from Neilsen BookScan.

The conclusion is simple. Print can’t seem to find the bottom while e-book growth is simply phenomenal. And I don’t expect things to alter radically while the figures begin to reflect the full effects of the Borders liquidation.

Does anyone still doubt that e-book dominance is inevitable?

Tomorrow, I’ll have another sneak peek at a chapter from my forthcoming South American historical adventure A Storm Hits Valparaíso.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

28 Replies to “AAP Figures for June Show Dramatic Print Slump, Continuing Ebook Explosion”

  1. Pretty disturbing numbers, honestly. For June alone that means these houses had 102.8M less unit sales for June. Did indies make up the difference? Which houses weren’t included in this? Could they have picked up the difference, or are book unit sales themselves on a decline, despite the hope that the new eReaders would drive up sales?

    1. Hi Rex,

      These are dollar revenue figures for the reporting houses rather than unit sales numbers – sorry that should have been clearer.

      I don’t have a breakdown if which houses are included and which aren’t. I’m pretty sure that the AAP were including print data from 82 houses and e-data from 16 houses at the start of the year, but recently that mix has changed to 79 houses reporting print data and 15 reporting e-data which, depending on the respective houses, could skew the figures. That’s why I said not to focus on the raw revenue numbers so much.

      Fire sales at Borders (and other closing down stores) will definitely be impacting here. If print readers are spending a lot of their book spending budgets in these sales, there is less money for Barnes & Noble and the rest to gobble up. Some of those effects could be temporary and could ease after this month. Time will tell.

      Also Mike Shatzkin estimated that Borders previously were responsible for around 10% of the average publisher’s business. Some of those customers will be hoovered up by Barnes & Noble and the rest, but some will be lost online to Amazon (where they will be assailed with Kindle ads and e-book price differences) and some will go straight to digital.

      Finally, e-books, even those from the big publishers, are cheaper than print books. Any switch to digital will adversely affect the raw revenue number. But it may not affect the publisher bottom line as badly because they get to keep a much larger share of the book cover price – around 52.5%. In short, they often make roughly the same off an e-book as a hardback, despite the vast difference in retail price. And, of course, they don’t have to pay to print, store, or ship those books.

  2. Aahg! Tim, trees won’t be breathing easier, since if they are not needed as a cash crop, they will not be grown. Books are printed mainly on paper produced sustainably from trees grown for the purpose.

    Similarly, if we all stopped eating meat, it would not be good news for pigs. There’d be very few of them kept.

    1. Lexi, you’re right, of course. Most paper is produced from farmed pulpwood. My quip on trees was pure shooting from the hip.

      But I am quite distressed to hear there may be a threat to the bacon supply?

    1. I even wrote a blog post by hand on the bus once. I had to snap out of that.

      All fiction is written long hand. I can do minor editing on the computer, but anything more than nit-picking requires a print-out and the old biro. I have trained myself now to do non-fiction direct to the laptop, but fiction is still impossible. It always comes out stilted and dry (or even more stilted and dry!) and just flows better with pen and paper. Wish it wasn’t so – it’s a slower way to work – but that’s the way it goes. Helps cut out the internet distractions, and means I can work anywhere. The last book was written while traveling across South America and Asia in a variety of bars, restaurants, cafes, and truck stops. The only problem is that the inevitable liquid lubrication can mean I wake up in the morning and realize I have killed off all my characters and have to backtrack a little!

  3. Very insightful, David. I really wish there was a mechanism somewhere to track the number of ebook sales from indies. Seems like there’s a chunk missing from the overall picture showing just how powerful the ebook revolution is!

    1. Only the various retailers will know that, and that won’t even count direct sales from indie author’s websites.

      However, if we take Amazon US in isolation, which is estimated at 60 – 65% of the US e-book market, we do have some idea of what proportion of the top-selling books are by indies. Since Amazon broke out an Indie Bestseller list, it’s possible to see what proportion of the top-selling books are by indies. I have been tracking it on and off for around a month, and it ranges between a third to a quarter of the top-selling e-books (Top 500 or so). I have no idea if that percentage holds lower down, however.

      1. David,

        I suspect indie authors are doing well at below #500. Fresh creative work that appeals to niche, but large niche, audiences. Once a book is below #500, pricing will be more critical and the big6 just haven’t been willing to work with pricing.


  4. David, so glad you’re back~you were missed. My handle on the publishing world was a haze in your absence, but I trust you had a fantastic vacation.

    I appreciate the numbers and your chart. It’s pretty clear where things are going although some of my demographic of readers (women 40 +, anyway, are split down the middle between Kindles and the printed book). These are interesting times, for sure!

  5. If you like your analysis graph-shaped, Neil at Ebook Comments does a fine job of plotting all this info any possible way you could imagine.

    Thanks for the hat tip. 🙂

    Ebook growth has been amazing. As I note in my post, I think the Borders bankruptcy is a major culprit of the drop. Once that inventory is cleared, I do not expect print-books to bounce back. 🙁 I expect an accelerated transition to ebooks due to greater inconvenience and reduced selection for print books. Everyone should recall Borders typically had over twice the titles per store versus B&N. The readers who demand variety now have no choice but to move on.

    A serious question is how will non-fiction paperback transition? I’m sad how tough it has been for non-fiction in ebooks. Without Boarders… it is going to be an abrupt transition.


    1. Hey Neil,

      I was just having the discussion about non-fiction with another writer yesterday and this is what I said to him (if you don’t mind a cut-and-paste):

      I have been thinking a little about the non-fiction market myself. The vast majority of all e-books sold are fiction – a huge variance from print. I think there are a number of reasons for this.

      1. Demographics. Thriller and romance readers were the first to switch to e-books. Literary fiction and non-fiction readers are bringing up the rear. But they will switch eventually. This is skewing sales figures.

      2. As such, very few non-fiction writers have decided to go it alone (with some notable exceptions). Thriller and romance writers were the first to start self-publishing. The writers will follow the readers, and the switching of the writers will bring the rest of the readers.

      3. Backlists. Significant numbers of e-books being sold are backlist titles that may have been out of print for some time. While there may be gold in a fiction writer’s backlist, that may be less true for some non-fiction writers – especially if they write very topical books which may date quickly.

      4. Format/e-reader limitations. Many of the tricks non-fiction writers use to break up the text – boxes, fonts, typography, diagrams, pictures, graphs, pictograms – are either hard to do in e-books, impossible, or look crummy. Having just formatted one myself, I really felt that the pared-back approach was the best way to go until the formats and the e-readers are able to display these things better.

      There are probably more reasons; price could be a factor – e-book customers are more price-sensitive and non-fiction books tend to be more expensive.

      I think we will see a boom in non-fiction soon enough though. Also, I think the graphic intensive stuff will do well on tablets whereas e-readers could lead a revival in long-form journalism.

  6. Pingback: Aap Figures For June Show Dramatic Print Slump, Continuing Ebook … | ePublishing HQ
  7. If my quick math is right, the slightly silver lining for the big guys is that sales are only down about 10% or so overall for the year, and probably less than that since sales are moving to e-books and some of them aren’t reporting e-books. So while they’re in a pinch, they’re still not losing huge chunks of customers to indie authors quite yet. If they are smart enough to keep their current authors on their rolls, and gobble up the most successful of the indies with offers too good to refuse they could concievably hold on to much of their marketshare without holding onto paper. (However, that requires them to behave much more intelligently than various signs show they are currently behaving so the jury remains out.)

    1. True, but those indie authors they are gobbling up aren’t on the standard newbie advances of $5k or $10k. And if they want to keep the authors they already have they are going to have to spend one way or another through advances, better royalties, or promises of a marketing rollout to push their books. They are getting squeezed in all directions: on price, by new competitors in publishing, by self-publishers, by bookstores closing – the only good news for them really is the 52.5% they get to keep on e-books, which is why they are going to hold on to that for as long as possible – which will probably cause them to continue shedding authors to smaller publishers, Amazon, and self-publishing. It’s vicious circle, and I can’t see a way out for them with a radical change in thinking, which, as you suggest, seems unlikely based on current behavior.

  8. Are these figures mainly for fiction?

    I realize many (or most) of your readers are likely fiction-oriented, but I’ve been looking at the technical book market (computers, etc.) for several years. Many predicted the demise of printed tech books in 2000-2001, when (in the word of O’Reilly) the tech book market “cratered”.

    Except that it didn’t; it changed and grew again. It still experiences ups and downs, but it’s not seeing an “e-book explosion”, exactly. For those interested, here’s a decently done analysis of that market in 2010.

    I’m still looking for data on what constitues an “e-book” sale, since hundreds of thousands of papers, reports, articles, documents, etc. are published and purchased on Amazon and other sites as “e-books”. As far as I can tell, Amazon describes all of those as an “e-book” sale.

    Overall? I think e-books will continue their surge in popularity.

    But, I’m more reticent than most to predict a nuclear demise of “traditional” print publishing; betting on e-books becoming the main way to reach an audience makes me very uncomfortable. Not betting on e-books as ONE way, but as the MAIN way. I like technology and want to see it serve the needs of humans, but I’ve seen too many tech cycles to call this The Future–that is, a technology that replaces print. Technology’s never, ever that predictable.

    1. These figures are for fiction and non-fiction combined. When we occasionally get numbers for fiction alone (such as through Neilsen Bookscan), the figures are even more stark (in terms of print’s decline and the switch to digital). This tallies with the Kindle bestseller lists which are predominantly fiction. There are a number of reasons why non-fiction sales are lagging behind; I think I mentioned a few above.

      As for what constitutes an “e-book” sale, I’m not sure that would make much difference to the figures mentioned here (which are all to do with the larger publishers). It may skew something like Amazon saying they are selling more “e-books” than print combined, but I would imagine that the top-ranked paper, report, article, or document wouldn’t have a very high ranking, so I wouldn’t imagine (although I could be wrong) that it would skew things that much.

      I don’t think we will see a nuclear demise of traditional publishing either. I think we will see a rapid downsizing of the larger publishers. I think we will see some small publishers (those with a digital focus) grow rapidly. I think we could see lots of name authors transform themselves into publishing companies who publish and promote other authors under their “brand” (and in fact we are seeing the beginnings of this already, and it exists already to some extent in the orbit of “traditional” publishing with people like James Frey and James Patterson). Essentially, I foresee a balkanization of the entire industry, and I think it will be quite unrecognizable in a few short years.

      Personally, I think e-books will become the main way to reach readers – as long as you allow a broad definition of what constitutes an e-book. We will probably see streaming services of book content – would you call that an e-book? I would. Perhaps you would be more comfortable if we said “digital will become the main way to reach readers” – I mean the same thing. For years, an e-book was a PDF or a txt file. It has transformed into something else now, and that definition will get stretched further with apps, enhanced e-books, and things we haven’t even envisioned yet.

      But the future is digital. The economics are too compelling for it to be otherwise. That is, until the next disruptive technology comes along and turns everything on its head 🙂

      1. “I think we could see lots of name authors transform themselves into publishing companies who publish and promote other authors under their “brand” (and in fact we are seeing the beginnings of this already, and it exists already to some extent in the orbit of “traditional” publishing with people like James Frey and James Patterson). ”

        I agree! And, that’s a fascinating and unexpected development to me. Maybe the future of publishing is more diversified and less centralized after all; this example you gave could be one of the healthy alternatives to depending on Amazon. The problem, though, remains: how to reach readers?

        1. Social media, forums, creative innovations like Dean Wesley Smith’s book card idea, author collectives, blurb trading, and then all the other retailers which are grabbing varying slices of the pie, especially internationally: Apple, Kobo, Sony etc. And don’t count out international e-commerce companies which have head-starts in their home markets like Fnac in France/Spain, Alibaba in China, Telefonica across Latin America. The carriers could get in on the game too. And the bookstores – Waterstones in the UK are launching their own e-reader (and already have an e-store). Then there are big players like Tesco in the UK – nominally a supermarket chain, but like Walmart, does a bit of everything and now has their own e-bookstore. The list is endless. Amazon are in a dominant position now, but it could be very different in 5 years – especially outside the US. Think how much of the market they had just 18 months ago – 90%. Already that is down to around 60%. It really could go either way.

  9. Pingback: Sunday Self-Publishing Round-Up [Vol 1, 24] - Taleist

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *