The book sales boom is over
Print book unit sales fell 8.9% in the first quarter, which ended April 2, compared to the same period in 2021, at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. The drop was expected, as sales in the first quarter of 2021 climbed 29.2% compared to the first period of 2020. Unit sales were 183.9 million in the last quarter, compared to 201.9 million it a year ago, but they were still up around 16% in the first quarter of 2020, when sales began to slow due to pandemic-related lockdowns.
The only category to show a significant increase in the quarter was adult fiction. Colleen Hoover and fellow BookTok favorite Taylor Jenkins Reid were the big winners. Hoover’s It ends with us sold over 400,000 copies in the first quarter, making it number 1 on the category list, while Truthwith 312,000 copies sold, and Reminders of him, with approximately 235,000 copies sold, held second and fifth place respectively on the adult fiction charts. by Reid The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was #3, selling around 268,000 copies. Run, Rose, Run by James Patterson and Dolly Parton was the top-selling new title, selling just under 250,000 copies since its March 7 release.
The largest category in the commercial market, adult non-fiction, saw sales fall 10.7% in the quarter. The drop was due to softness further down the category list rather than at the top. Indeed, the best adult non-fiction title, James Clear’s Atomic Habits, sold over 411,000 copies, making it the No. 1 title of the quarter overall. In the first quarter of last year, Atomic Habits, published in October 2018, sold over 231,000 copies, placing it second in the category list behind Keep Sharp by Sanjay Gupta, which sold approximately 246,000 copies. Every adult non-fiction subcategory saw a decline from the first quarter of 2021: the religion category recorded the smallest decline, 0.5%, while biography/autobiography/memoir and crafts/ hobbies/gaming/antiques were both down more than 19% from a year ago.
Print unit sales in children’s fiction fell 14.2%. The category has faced tough comparisons from a year ago, when sales of Dr. Seuss titles surged after Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it would stop printing six books written between 1937 and 1976 due to fears that the titles would portray people in hurtful ways. Plus, last year, Dav Pilkey’s newest, Mothering Heights (Dog Man #10), was the best-selling book of the quarter, selling over 411,000 copies. In the last trimester, Little Blue Truck’s Valentine’s Day by Alice Schertle was No. 1 in the category, selling just over 215,000 copies.
Children’s non-fiction sales fell 15% in the quarter. Similar to adult non-fiction, sales fell across all subcategories. Social/Family/Health situations saw the biggest drop, with units down 22.8%, followed by Games/Activities/Hobbies, which saw a 17.6% drop. Both juvenile categories were affected by Easter – a great season for buying children’s books – which took place on April 4 last year, 13 days earlier than this year.
The YA category was roughly flat in the first quarter, with sales of fiction down 1.2% and non-fiction up 0.1%.
Looking at the results by format, consumer paperback saw an alarming decline, with units down almost 21%. Trade paperback saw the smallest decline, down 5%.
A version of this article originally appeared in the 11/04/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: The Boom Ends