After six straight years of growth in print sales, 2019 is off to a rocky start for publishers. At a late morning session dubbed The State of the Publishing Industry Today, David Walter, executive director, client development for NPD Books, told BookExpo attendees that growth in print sales is trending down, with 2019 showing a decline so far.
“If we bring this right up to date with figures from yesterday, the overall market is down by about 2.5%,” Walter said, pointing to a negative first quarter (-2.9%). That of course is owing largely to the lack of a blockbuster book like Michael Wolff’s Fire & Fury, which jumpstarted 2018 first quarter sales.
E-book sales, meanwhile, are continuing their slide, down again for a sixth straight year, a trend Walter said he didn’t see ending anytime soon. NPD’s data does not include self-published books.
The good news for publishers, however, is that digital audio continues to surge and is showing no signs of slowing down, with many publishers reporting that double-digit growth in digital audio is making up for lagging e-book sales.
“The question that leaves us with is how much will digital audio grow the overall book market,” Walter said. Will digital eventually start to cannibalize book sales, or, as “a different experience,” will digital audio "bring new consumers into the book market?” In the coming months, NPD Books will start offering a service to measure digital audio sales, Walter said.
Among other the key trends: nonfiction has carried industry sales in recent years, especially political books. Adult fiction sales, on the other hand, have been in decline, a trend that is continuing in 2019. And after a number of blockbuster bestsellers in 2018, Walter points to signs that “political fatigue” may be setting in, citing a 38% decrease in political book sales in the first quarter of 2019, vs. the first quarter of 2018. We may soon get a window into how fatigued readers are, he noted, with Siege, Michael Wolff’s follow-up to Fire & Fury, set to publish in early June.
Among the other interesting trends, Walter reported that NPD's data shows “the middle is being squeezed,” with high profile titles driving a larger percentage of industry growth in 2018, and deeper backlist titles also showing growth. In fact,NPD figures show that in 2018, consumers bought more books published before 2000 than books published in the previous two years. And, Walter added, the top 10 selling books of 2018, which included five million-sellers, was the biggest top 10 since 2012, when Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games dominated the bestseller lists.