May 11, 2018

The AAP has released revised sales data for 2017 and 2016, and the news is… kinda good!


Wow! What a year!

At Publishers Lunch, Michael Cader has a tidy summary of the American Association of Publishers’ revised data for 2017, which contains some surprising revelations. The news is good, more or less, but the context of that good news also underscores some real problems with publishing metrics and financial reporting.

The real news is that sales in 2016, which had originally been reported as a flat year, were actually really good! Rather than down 0.2 percent, sales were in fact up 5.4 percent, at a touch over $7 billion. Much of this jump is due to revised sales numbers for December 2016, which was initially reported as a soft month. The revised sales are $61 million higher than what was reported in 2017. That’s a lot of dough to just find, laying around, more than a year after the fact.

Not that we shouldn’t be bouyed by this news, but you’ve got to wonder about the accounting acumen of an industry that loses $61 million dollars in the couch cushions because the eggnog was too strong.

Other findings reported by Cader are less dramatic, though still positive. Sales in 2017—as currently calculated—are up a percent and a half on 2016s revised numbers, to $7.11 billion. That growth was almost exclusively due to big gains in adult hardcover sales, which more than made up for a big dip in children’s fiction, after the massive return of the Harry Potter franchise in 2016.

Another notable data point: e-books continued their slow decline, but sales of digital audio were ascendant—up 28.8 percent over 2016—producing a net gain of eight million for combined digital sales.

As Cader mentions, the massive swings in the 2016 reporting suggest that we shouldn’t have too much confidence in the solidity of these numbers. Which must be a nightmare for folks who have to make big money decisions and forecasts based on these kinds of reports.

I guess that’s just part of the charm of working in a industry full of smart, passionate people who have no fucking idea what a spreadsheet is for.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.