After unit sales of print books were basically flat in the first quarter of 2023 compared to 2022, they finished the first half of the year down 2.7%. Sales fell from 363.4 million in the first six months of 2022 to 353.5 million this year at outlets that report to Circana BookScan.
First-quarter sales were given a big boost by Spare by Prince Harry, which sold about 1.1 million copies during the period and was also the bestselling book for the first half of the year. But no title came close to matching its sales level in the second quarter. (More bestselling books of the year so far will be featured in next week’s issue.)
The 2.7% decline in the first half of 2023 followed a 6.6% drop in the first six months of 2022 compared to 2021; unit sales were 387.5 million in the first half of 2021, 8.5% higher than in the same period this year. In taking the longer view back to prepandemic times, units were up 12% in the first half of this year compared to 2019.
The trends for the first six months of 2023 are no surprise: sales of adult fiction are up, with declines in the other major categories. And, as has been the case for a while, backlist is doing better than frontlist, with backlist sales down 2.1% compared to frontlist’s 4.2% drop.
Only a handful of books published in 2023 (including Spare) managed to land on BookScan’s top 25 list. Dav Pilkey’s newest Dog Man entry, Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea, sold more than 771,000 copies, making it the #4 title in 2023 thus far. Other new releases that did well were two Colleen Hoover books, Heart Bones and Never Never, which sold approximately 430,000 and 374,000 copies, respectively, and Emily Henry’s Happy Place, which sold about 415,000 copies.
New releases helped make romance the fastest-growing adult fiction genre in the first six months of the year, with sales up 34.6%. The horror/occult/psychology and fantasy genres also had strong gains, with sales up 32.5% and 26.5%, respectively. The high-flying graphic novels category cooled off in the period, with units down 22.7%; even with the decline, graphic novels, with unit sales of 13.8 million, was the third-largest genre in adult fiction.
The boost provided by Spare made biography/autobiography/memoir one of only three adult nonfiction subcategories to have a sales increase in the first six months, with sales up 4.6%. Travel had the largest increase, up 6.6%, and sales of religion books inched ahead 1.9%. The two categories most closely associated with stay-at-home activities during the pandemic had the largest declines, as sales of home/gardening books dropped 17.5% and sales of cooking/entertaining titles fell 15.4%.
Only one category in juvenile fiction had an increase, with sales of animals books up 14%. The largest decline came in the sci-fi/fantasy/magic area, where sales fell 11.3%. With the exception of holidays/festivals/religion, sales in all juvenile nonfiction subcategories fell in the period, with both history/sports/people/places and education/reference/language posting declines of more than 11%.
Sales by format were generally consistent throughout the year to date, with trade paperback sales holding up fairly well, down 1.8%, while hardcover sales were off 3.9%—a decline publishers continue to nervously watch. Mass market paperbacks had another steep decline, falling 17.8%, and accounted for only 3.6% of unit sales recorded by BookScan in the first six months of 2023.