With unit sales of print books rising 4% in the adult nonfiction segment—the industry’s largest major category—total unit sales for the first half of 2018 increased 2% over the comparable period in 2017 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. The gain follows a 3% increase in six-month unit sales in the first half of 2017 over 2016. The strength in adult nonfiction offset a 4% decline in sales in the adult fiction segment. Overall, total units in the first half of 2018 were 316.8 million, up from 310.7 million in the first half of 2017.
Adult nonfiction benefited from strong sales of two political books both published by Macmillan divisions: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff and released by Holt, sold nearly 1 million print copies, according to BookScan, while James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty sold more than 577,000 copies for Flatiron. A third new adult nonfiction title, Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines, sold almost 676,000 copies in the first half of the year, putting it in second place overall.
Adult fiction sales suffered from yet another period where no new novel broke out in print. (Though several did sell briskly in e-book). The top-selling new novel in the first half of 2018 was The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, which sold nearly 384,000 copies in the first six months of 2018. Stephen King’s The Outsider was the second-most popular new adult fiction title in the first six months of the year, selling over 275,000 copies. In the first six months of 2017, two backlist novels led the adult fiction chart—A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman sold 451,000 copies, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale sold 325,000 copies.
Print unit sales in juvenile nonfiction rose 7% in the year, to 26.4 million units. Within juvenile nonfiction, young adult nonfiction print sales did particularly well, up 68% over the first half of 2017 with a number of subcategories posting big gains, including education/reference/language and social situations/family health. The top-selling title in the juvenile nonfiction segment was the perennially popular First 100 Words by Roger Priddy, which sold over 186,000 copies.
A mix of frontlist and backlist bestsellers helped to drive up juvenile fiction sales 3% over the first half of 2017. Madeleine L’Engle’s 11-year-old A Wrinkle in Time was the category’s top seller, selling just over 514,000 copies, while two new books finished second and third—Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man and Cat Kid sold over 495,000 copies, and A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss, was third, with nearly 489,000 copies sold.
There were some interesting trends in sales by format. While hardcover sales posted another solid gain over the first half of 2017, trade paperback sales were just about flat with the prior year. Unit sales of mass market paperbacks finally show real signs of bottoming out with units off 3% compared to 2017; in the first half of 2017, unit sales of the format were down 9% compared to the first six months of 2016. And the end seems near for physical audiobooks. While sales of digital audio have skyrocketed, unit sales of CDs fell 28% in the first six months of 2018, compared to the same period a year ago.