Unit sales of print books fell just over 9% in 2012 at outlets tracked by Nielsen BookScan, roughly the same percentage decline posted between 2010 and 2011. Between 2010 and 2012, print book unit sales dropped just under 16%. The unit declines in 2012 reflect in part the 2011 collapse of Borders, which included a large sell-off, often at bargain prices.
Adult nonfiction, which had been slower to move to e-books than fiction, had the steepest decline among the four major categories and was the only category where the decline in print sales accelerated over 2011. Helped by sales of the Fifty Shades trilogy, unit sales in adult fiction fell 10.7%, significantly slower than the 17.7% decline posted in 2011. After falling 3% in 2011, unit sales in juvenile nonfiction turned around in 2012, up 5.4%, with the 38.2 million units sold higher than the 37 million sold in 2010. While units declined again in the juvenile fiction category in 2012, the rate of decline was half that of 2011, when units were down just over 5%. In the category, units in 2012 were boosted by strong sales of the Hunger Games trilogy early in the year and a couple of Wimpy Kid titles, including The Third Wheel, which was a hot holiday seller in print.
The success of Fifty Shades, however, couldn’t slow the decline in unit sales in the trade paperback format, where units dropped 8.6% after falling just under 6% in 2011. The drop in hardcover sales slowed somewhat last year, with units off 5.7%, compared to about 7% in 2011. Unit sales of mass market paperbacks took the biggest hit in the year, down 20.5%, and were off 38% since 2010. Still, the 2012 decline in mass market paperback was slower than the 23% drop in 2011, and there were signs in late 2012 that the fall of mass market paperbacks was slowing significantly, as units were off by low single digits on a weekly basis for most of the last two months of the year. In the 2010–2012 period, unit sales of hardcovers were down about 11%, while trade paperback sales were off 13%.
Reflecting the strength of the children’s market—and the difficulty of coming up with a digital counterpart—sales of board books rose just over 3% last year. Unit sales of physical audiobooks fell in 2012, but that decline slowed, falling 7% last year compared to just over 12% in 2011.
Outlets tracked by BookScan account for 75%–80% of print unit sales, a percentage that will increase this year, as Wal-Mart began reporting data last week.
|Total Unit Sales of Print Books, 2011, 2012|
|Unit Sales of Print Books by Category, 2011, 2012|
|Unit Sales of Physical Books by Format, 2011, 2012|
|Mass Market Paperback||83,576,000||66,403,000||-20.5|