The Association of American Publishers have just disclosed how much money the publishing industry generated in 2021. Hardcovers, Paperbacks, ebooks and audiobooks generated $29.33 billion industry-wide during the year, the highest number ever reported. The number reflects a $3.23 billion increase, or 12.3%, as compared to 2020 revenues of $26.1 billion.
“The industry was firing on all cylinders in 2021, delivering benefits up and down the value chain for literature, scholarship, and educational materials,” commented Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO, Association of American Publishers. “At the end of the day, we know that books are immeasurable and timeless as they make their way in the world. Nevertheless, in an economy that is overcrowded with entertainment options, it is thrilling and gratifying to see such resounding affirmation for reading.”
While ebook revenue had increased for the first time in years during 2020, climbing 12.4%, in 2021 the format again declined, falling 5.0%, and coming in at $1.97 billion. Digital audiobooks continued to grow, climbing 12.8% as compared to 2020, with an estimated revenue of $1.75 billion for the year. The format has seen continuous growth nearly every month since 2012, with the notable exception of November 2020, when it declined 1.6%.
Physical Retail Environment
2021 saw some important adjustments to consumer behavior that differed from the previous year, including major growth in physical spaces. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, many bookstores were physically closed or offering limited physical services, and fewer people were visiting the stores that were in operation, choosing instead to purchase books from online platforms. In 2020, 50.1% of Trade revenue was attributable to the Online Retail Channel.
During 2021, however, as COVID restrictions began to ease, many bookstores re-opened and customers returned in full force to the physical sales environment. As a result, during 2021 the Physical Retail Channel climbed 23.9% industry-wide on a year-over-year basis, totaling $6.22 billion.
Within the Physical Retail Channel, Trade revenues increased 40.4%, reaching $3.66 billion, reversing a five-year trend of decline. The total percentage of Trade revenue attributable to the Physical Retail Channel for 2021 was 19.5%.
Online Retail Environment
Purchases via Online Retail, which include sales of both digital products and physical products sold via online platforms, were also strong, accounting for 32.7% of industry-wide revenue, or $9.60 billion.
In the Trade sector, Online Retail remained dominant, accounting for 44.7% percent of revenues, or $8.39 billion.
In terms of year-over-year comparison, Online Retail Channel was roughly flat, falling 0.5% both on an industry-wide basis, and in the Trade category.
The U.S. Export Market
Like Physical Retail, the U.S. Export market reversed its pandemic-era decline, with revenues growing to $1.49 billion, an 18.9% increase as compared to 2020.
With students returning to school in larger numbers during 2021, the PreK-12 category saw significant growth, climbing 25.3% to $4.81 billion.
Higher Education also grew, climbing 2.8% during 2021, reaching $3.22 billion.
In Trade, physical books continued to dominate the market during the year, with Hardback, Paperback, and Special Bindings each seeing double digit increases in revenue.
Trade Paperback revenues increased 14.2% during the year, reaching $6.24 billion, and Trade Hardback revenue increased 13.6%, reaching $7.07 billion, and Special Bindings increased 11.60% reaching $42 million.
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.