The Numbers Are In: 2012 Was A Good Year In Publishing

The Association of American Publishers has just released the final numbers for last year’s book sales and it is official that 2012 was a profitable year for publishers. Despite a disappointing holiday season — sales were down by 13% when compared to December 2011 — overall book sales climbed.

According to a recent report from Publishers Marketplace, trade sales rose by $451 million in 2012 to end the year at a hefty $6.5 billion in total sales. The 7.4% increase from 2011 was attributed to two blockbuster series — Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James and the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

To show just how much James’ popular books contributed to the industry’s total earnings, PM did an “extrapolation from Random House’s reported sales” to find that the erotic romance trilogy earned an estimated $263 million in 2012 which made up over 5% of adult trade sales for the entire year! And even though it was first published between 2008 and 2010, Hunger Games has proven that it has staying power. This YA series accounted for roughly 9.5% of all children’s book sales in 2012.   

With numbers like these, it's no wonder that James’ publisher, Random House, and Collins’ publisher, Scholastic, posted the highest gains last year. RH has reported an increase in sales in 2012 at about $500 million, while Scholastic had a $162 million increase in trade sales. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt also had a good year with an increase of $31 million in sales from last year and HarperCollins also gained in sales. Other major publishers did not fair as well with Penguin and Simon & Schuster reporting flat sales, while Hachette and Harlequin’s sales declined in 2012.

Even though the numbers from publisher to publisher varied, one thing that every company had in common — increases in e-book sales. Digital sales increased by 42% making it a total of $1.4 billion worth of e-books sold in 2012 — that’s billion with a ‘b’ folks! For those doing the math at home, this means that 23% of all trade sales were for e-books, a significant leap from last year’s 17%.

But this tremendous growth in e-book sales could not propel digital books to the most popular format for readers. Trade paperbacks have officially claimed that honor. Coming in second were hardcovers, leaving e-books as the third most popular format for readers. But with the astronomical growth of e-books and digital reading devices, many are speculating that 2013 may be the year that electronic formats become the favored way to read.

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