Forbes: Traditional Publishers Are Selling Way More Non-Fiction Than Fiction

2013 was the last year that the adult fiction category beat non-fiction in revenue.


Forbes article by Adam Rowe >>

In the publishing industry, adult non-fiction revenues are soaring above fiction revenues and have been widening the gap for the past five years. Adult non-fiction revenue totalled $6.18 billion across the publishing industry in 2017, while adult fiction revenues reached $4.3 billion, according to Penguin Random House, using data from Association of American Publishers (AAP), the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Bookscan.

2013 was the last year that the adult fiction category beat non-fiction in revenue (at $5.21 billion in revenue to non-fiction’s $4.82 billion). Revenues for adult non-fiction have rapidly risen every year since: $4.97 billion in 2014, $5.59 billion in 2015, $5.87 billion in 2016, and finally $6.18 billion last year. In the same five-year period, adult fiction revenues dropped from a high of $5.21 billion in 2013 to 2017’s low of $4.38 billion.

Revenues in the Children’s and Young Adult fiction and non-fiction category, meanwhile, have remained below both adult categories for the five-year period, except for 2016, when it reached $4.47 billion, besting the adult fiction revenues of $4.43 billion.

One caveat should accompany these numbers before we start reporting the death of adult fiction, however: The numbers only account for traditionally published books, and any fiction or non-fiction from the not-insignificant indie self-publishing community is not included. As publishing expert Jane Friedman noted in a Twitter comment about the findings, “The market for fiction may not be shrinking overall, but it may be shrinking for traditional publishers if indie authors’ cheaper titles look more attractive to avid fiction readers.”

The data was presented in an August report from Penguin Random House, though their main focus was on the stability of the book publishing industry. Revenue is largely flat: Overall revenues clocked in at $14.7 billion for 2017, up 0.4% from 2016. “Notable trends during this time period include a rebound in trade (consumer) books and continued double-digit growth for audio,” the report notes. “While ebook sales declined (-4.7%) for the third consecutive year, the pace of decline appears to be slowing down.”

Don’t expect the publishing industry’s impressive non-fiction revenues to change when the data from this year arrives: Given the consistent successes that political tell-alls have enjoyed this year, the adult non-fiction category is continuing strong.