Adult Fiction Sales: How Much Was Print in 2012?

Musings on Writing & Publishing

Adult Fiction Sales: How Much Was Print in 2012?

With permission of the American Association of Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group 2012 data, I recently took a look at how the ebook and print book revenue and unit splits came in for 2012, just for the trade adult fiction category.

It is important to note the following when looking at this data:

1) This study measures the traditional publishing industry, not self-publishing titles. If those titles were factored in, the balance between ebooks and print would skew further toward ebooks.

2)  In 2012, net book sales across all categories fell slightly over the previous year, the third straight year of declines, but with more stability. Much of that decline was within the education, scholarly, and nonfiction book categories.

3) The excellent news is that two categories grew: adult trade fiction and young adult trade fiction. Some or quite a lot of this could be due to blockbusters in each category that will be difficult to replicate in 2013: 50 Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games. Trade publishing now represents 55% of the total book market, up from less than 50% a few years ago, which speaks in part to the emergence of ebooks but also the decline of the total pie as the other sectors shrink. It’s probably a good news/bad news pie chart.

This is what I see in the 2012 Trade Adult Fiction category data:

2012 Trade Book Adult Fiction Total Dollars: $4.8b

Print books (all formats): $2.9b (62%)
Ebooks: $1.8b (38%)

When looking at the unit split, it was 40% ebooks and 60% print.

What this data cannot answer is how many people would have paid the higher paperback or hardcover price for a book if it was not available in ebook? (As in let’s pretend ebooks don’t exist.) Conversely, how many more people read the book and talked about it because they downloaded the ebook “before they forgot to buy the print book.” How many new readers were created by ebooks for that title? In the case of 50 Shades, the book might very well have never existed had it not been self-published first as an ebook and the entire 2012 industry results and Random House would have suffered as a result.

I think common sense says there is a tradeoff at play here. But is readership of adult fiction and young adult fiction going up because of ebooks? Are more people reading books they would not have otherwise read? That answer must be yes.

If someone knows what adding the self-publishing units and dollars into this mix looks like I would be very interested in knowing. For instance, of all the books sold in 2012, how many came from the publishers covered in the AAP/BISG report and how many came from self-publishing programs? (NPD retail data, for instance, typically says: this data represents 91% of all cash register rings made via our measured retailers.) I realize this data for fiction alone is probably not available.

— Caleb Mason

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