Through the first nine months of 2019, unit sales of print books were down 1.4% compared to the same period in 2018 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Unit sales of all adult titles fell 1.5%, while print sales of juvenile books were down just 0.3%.
The adult nonfiction segment was expected to have a difficult time matching last year’s sales, particularly in the first part of the year, since it was facing tough comparisons with the host of books about the Trump administration that were big hits early in 2018. Indeed, sales in the history/law/political science category were down 13.9% from last year, when Fire and Fury, Fear, and A Higher Loyalty combined to sell more than 2.3 million copies through September. The top-selling political title so far in 2019 is Mark Levin’s Unfreedom of the Press, which has sold about 368,700 copies. Scribner’s version of the Mueller Report sold nearly 298,000 copies, putting it in 20th place on the bestselling books so far this year.
Helping to somewhat offset the decline in the sales of political books was the 6.3% increase in unit sales posted by the biography/autobiography/memoir category, where Michelle Obama’s Becoming, released in November 2018, has sold just over one million copies so far in 2019, making it the second-biggest print seller in the year and the top-selling title in the nonfiction category. Three other adult nonfiction titles cracked the top 10 bestselling books in the year to date: Educated by Tara Westover sold nearly 690,000 copies, while Rachel Hollis had two books that combined to sell nearly 1.2 million copies.
Adult fiction sales fell 3.5% in January–September 2019 compared to the first nine months of 2018, despite the blockbuster success of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, which sold 1.4 million copies this year so far, making it the #1 title of 2019. In second place on the adult fiction list was Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which sold about 505,000 copies.
Though sales in the general fiction segment (the largest subcategory in fiction with 30.4 million copies sold through September) rose almost 1% over 2018, a number of genres had double-digit declines. The largest decline was a nearly 25% drop in science fiction; westerns, romance, religion, and classics all had double-digit declines as well. Graphic novels were a bright spot, with sales up 10.6%. How many of the lost print genre sales are moving to e-books is hard to measure, but certainly e-books released by traditional and self-publishers are having an impact on print sales in a number of genres.
While Rachel Hollis had two books among the top 10 bestsellers so far this year, Dav Pilkey had two hits in the children’s category with his Dog Man series; the two titles sold more than 1.3 million copies. Overall, unit sales of juvenile fiction were down 1.4% through September. Juvenile nonfiction sales were up 2.6% over 2018, with the education/reference/language category, up 8%, leading the way.
Taking a look at formats, gains in the once rapidly growing board area have slowed, though it still grew 2.3% in the first nine months of 2019. No bottom seems to be in sight for the mass market paperback and physical audiobook formats. The decline in physical audio is no surprise given the explosive growth of digital audio, and audiobooks in general have been a boon to many publishers. The continuing steep decline in mass market paperback is more problematic, as the format appears to be bearing the brunt of sales that have moved to less expensive e-books.