With four consecutive weeks of increases to close out the first quarter, unit sales of print books in the period were nearly flat with 2022, dropping just 0.3% at outlets that report to Circana BookScan. The late rush offset what was an up-and-down first two months of the year.

The small quarterly decline should ease fears that unit sales are poised for a sharp drop in 2023, as inflation and other factors slow the overall economy. Moreover, the 184.4 million copies sold in the most recent quarter was nearly 17% higher than the 157.7 million copies sold in the first quarter of 2019—another indication that book sales may level off above where they were before the unexpected surge caused by Covid lockdowns that began in spring 2020.

Gains in adult and young adult fiction offset declines in the other four major categories in the quarter. After posting an 8.5% increase for all of 2022, unit sales of adult fiction rose another 6.8% in the first quarter.

Romance, which has been a key driver of adult fiction sales, saw sales jump nearly 45%. Colleen Hoover’s It Starts with Us and It Ends with Us led the romance charge, combining to sell more than one million copies. Hoover had a total of seven books on the top 25 list, which sold a total of about 2.3 million copies.

The only author other than Hoover to have more than one book on the list was another BookTok favorite, Taylor Jenkins Reid, whose The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones & the Six combined to sell about 460,000 copies.

Elsewhere in adult fiction, sales in the horror/occult/psychological subcategory rose 30% at outlets that report to BookScan. Graphic novels, which had big gains in 2021 and 2022, saw sales slip 12.6% in the first quarter.

Young adult sales were up 2.7% in the quarter, driven by a 23.3% increase in the social situations/family/health subcategory. If He Had Been with Me by Laura Nowlin was the top title in the category, selling more than 160,000 copies.

The industry’s largest category, adult nonfiction, had a 3.6% sales decline following a 10% drop for all of 2022. Subcategories that were popular during the pandemic such as cooking/entertainment and home/gardening have cooled, with first-quarter sales off 16.3% and 10.7%, respectively. Sales of travel books continued to rebound, up 11.1%, and the success of Spare by Prince Harry led to a 19.7% increase in sales of biography/autobiography/memoirs.

Sales of juvenile fiction fell 1.7%. The animals and holidays/festivals/religion subcategories saw sales rise 19.2% and 12.5%, respectively. Those gains were offset by declines in a number of bigger areas, including science fiction/fantasy/magic, where sales fell 8%.

The most notable trend among formats in the quarter was the continued erosion of mass market paperback, where sales tumbled 17.2% after falling nearly 19% in 2022.