After soaring 18.9% in the first half of 2021 over the comparable period in 2020, unit sales of print books retreated in the first half of 2022, dropping 6.6% from 2021 levels. According to NPD BookScan, total first-half print sales were 362.6 million, down from 386.6 million a year ago. All the major categories except adult fiction had declines, with the largest drop coming in the industry’s biggest category, adult nonfiction, where print sales fell 10.3%.
Sales at the midpoint of 2022 were still about 15% above the first six months of 2019, the last prepandemic year, which many in the industry are using as a benchmark, in light of the unexpectedly strong subsequent two years of the pandemic. The 6.6% decline is also an improvement over the first quarter, which saw an 8.9% drop in sales compared to last year’s first quarter.
Much has been made of the weakness in frontlist sales again this year, and that was evident in the BookScan data. Frontlist sales were down 11.7% in the first half of 2022, while backlist sales were off a more modest 4.1%, according to BookScan.
Nine frontlist titles (defined as books released within the past 12 months) were among the top 20 overall bestsellers in the first half of the year, led by two Colleen Hoover titles: Verity had sales of almost 704,000 copies, and Reminders of Him had sales of about 419,000 copies. Hoover, of course, is one of the big beneficiaries of BookTok, and five of her books were on the top 20 list for the year to date.
Helped by Hoover and other BookTok favorites, sales of adult fiction rose 4.6% in the first half of 2022. The romance genre had the largest gain with sales up 33%. Sales of graphic novels, which finished 2021 with a triple-digit increase over 2020, had a 10.5% increase so far this year. Sales of westerns had the largest six-month decline, falling 20%.
The drop in adult nonfiction is not because of weakness at the top of the bestseller chart. Atomic Habits by James Clear was #1 on the adult nonfiction list so far in 2022, selling about 694,000 copies, more than the 396,000 copies it sold in the first six months of 2021 and also ahead of the 455,000 copies The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman sold in the first half of 2021, which made it the category’s top seller then.
The adult nonfiction sales drop came in such categories as general nonfiction, where sales fell 17.7%; reference, which had a 16.1% sales decline; and biography/autobiography/memoir, where sales fell 15.3%. In fact, the only subcategory within adult nonfiction that had a sales increase over the first half of 2021 was travel, which was up 14.3%.
Every subcategory in juvenile fiction had a sales decline compared to the first half of 2021, with the biggest decline in the classics subcategory, where sales fell 14.4%. All but one subcategory in juvenile nonfiction had sales drops (holidays/festivals/religion had a 4.8% increase). The largest decline came in social situations/family/health, where sales fell 23%.
Results were more mixed in the young adult category, where declines were relatively modest, with fiction down 2.7% and nonfiction declining 3.4%. YA general fiction sales rose 14.9% and supernatural/horror sales increased 11%. Those gains were offset by declines in several categories, including a 10% drop in YA’s largest subcategory, science fiction/fantasy/magic.
Sales fell across all print formats. Mass market paperback took the biggest hit, with sales down 20.4%.