Unit sales of print books fell 4.1% in the first nine months of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022, at outlets that report to Circana BookScan. A weak third quarter, in which sales dropped 6.7%, accelerated the decline; for the first half of 2023, sales were down 2.7%.
Sales in every major category fell, with the most notable development being the third-quarter swoon in adult fiction, where sales dropped 7.6%, leaving it 0.2% below the first nine months of 2022. (To be fair, adult fiction sales in last year’s third quarter had jumped 38.5% over the third quarter of 2021.) Graphic novels, which posted huge gains in 2021 and 2022, continued to see sales slide in 2023, with units down 24.3% in the nine-month period. Even with the big decline, graphic novels was the third-biggest adult fiction subcategory, trailing only general fiction and romance.
Despite cooling in the summer, the romance genre was up 16.5% over the first nine months of 2022. While Colleen Hoover didn’t generate the huge numbers she did last year, when sales of It Ends with Us had reached nearly two million copies by the end of September and Verity and Ugly Love had sales of more than one million copies each, It Ends with Us and It Starts with Us each sold about 1.1 million copies so far this year. Other genres that posted good gains through the first nine months were fantasy, with sales up 32.4%, and horror/occult/psychological, where sales increased 21.2%.
Sales in adult nonfiction dropped 4.5% in the quarter, which is slightly better than how the category performed in the first half of 2023, and sales through September were off 4.8%. Adult nonfiction does have the bestselling book of the year so far: Spare by Prince Harry has sold just over 1.2 million copies, helping to lift sales 1.7% in the biography/autobiography/memoir subcategory. James Clear’s Atomic Habits, first published in late 2018, has become a backlist hit, having sold nearly 858,000 copies through September. The computer book category continued to slump, with sales down 16.9%, while sales of home and gardening titles fell 14.5%. The travel category continued its rebound, with sales up 8.6%.
Juvenile fiction sales declined 5.9% in the nine-month period. Only one subcategory had a sales increase, with animal books up 11.7%. The top-selling juvenile fiction title was Dav Pilkey’s Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea (Dog Man #11), which sold more than 923,000 copies, but total sales in the sci-fi/fantasy/magic subcategory, which is where the Dog Man series’ sales appear, dropped 10.9%.
The juvenile nonfiction category had the biggest decline through September, with sales down almost 10%. Its two largest subcategories—history/sports/people/places and education/reference/language—both posted drops of more than 12%. Only sales of holiday/festivals/religion books managed to hold even with 2022.
Sales of young adult fiction had a relatively small nine-month decline of 3.6%. If He Had Been with Me by Laura Nowlin was the category’s star performer, selling more than 506,000 copies.
Sales were down across all formats in the nine-month period. Trade paperback and hardcover sales were both down about 4% from a year ago. Mass market paperback sales fell 16.9% and accounted for just 3.7% of total unit sales.
Taking a longer view, while the total of 526.8 million units sold through September is down from comparable periods in 2022 and 2021, it is still up 3% over 2020 and almost 11% over 2019.