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May publishing sales fell 12%

Jul 13 2020

Net sales fell 12.1% in May, compared to May 2019, for the 1,360 publishers who report to AAP’s monthly StatShot program. Similar to the April report, the net sales figure was heavily influenced by a steep drop in returns, which offset a decline in gross sales in the month. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.)

Total gross sales fell 17.4% in May, but returns dropped 45.2%, leading to the 12.1% decline in net sales. Religion was the only category to have an increase in gross sales in the month, of 0.2%, and combined with a 38.9% drop in returns, the category had a 7% increase in net sales….

Note: Recent statistics from the US publishing industry seem to show conflicting results. For example, last week’s headline “Print units post surprising increase in first half of 2020” was a cause for celebration, while today’s article most certainly is not. It is beyond BookBrowse’s ability to interpret the figures, we simply share the articles as they appear.

One thing though does seem clear, over time the bad news in this article will likely prove worse because of the issue of returns–the practice whereby bookstores are able to return unsold books to the publisher (which traditionally takes place at the end of the season so as to make room on the shelves for the next season’s books). Returns are currently substantially lower than expected and so will likely increase over the coming months as bookstores reopen and booksellers start to clear their shelves of books that aren’t moving.

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